I’ve been taking in the largely east coast analysis of what happened in the historic election of last night. But from my perch out in San Francisco, I thought I’d give a quick analysis of what happened in California that may have implications for the rest of the country too.
I have always maintained that California is the future. I know that can rub people the wrong way, but it’s a useful rule of thumb when trying to forecast how many different trends in many different fields might play out across America. Look to California first. The same case can be made in politics. California often foreshadows larger trends that make their way into American politics over the long haul.
I’m not the only one who uses that frame. A couple days ago I even quoted Republican strategist Ed Rollins from a newspaper article: “California has always been a trendsetter,'' Rollins said. “Politically, it's always two to six years ahead of the rest of the country.''
If that’s the case, or even often the case, then what happened this election that politicos should pay attention to?
# First up, Arnold. Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger whomped Democrat Phil Angelides in a landslide victory with almost a 17 point spread. Why? Because Arnold is becoming a form of Republican that we have not seen in a long, long time: a progressive Republican.
I wrote a whole post on this before the election, but the results bear it out. Californians clearly responded to his shift to the left, which started with his state of the state speech in January where he laid out a hugely ambitious and largely progressive agenda that he and the overwhelmingly progressive Democratic legislature largely delivered throughout this year. By working with progressive Democrats on progressive issues like landmark legislation to aggressively solve global warming, Californians rewarded him with their vote. Even in the very progressive San Francisco Bay area he was getting 50 percent of the vote in many counties.
Just last fall those same Californians had soundly defeated all four of Arnold’s clearly conservative ballot initiatives in the special election that he called. So Californians don’t just like Arnie, they like progressive Arnie. It’s crystal clear from the opposite results of two elections only one year apart.
This is very important for the future of American politics because Arnold is about the only Republican success story of this cycle and many people are going to study his formula very closely. He is blazing a trail for the next wave of Republicans who will flee the conservative formula like rats from a sinking ship.
# Aside from Arnold, the rest of California’s elected officials are overwhelmingly Democrats, and progressive Democrats at that. This election held true to a progressive trend that has been inexorably evolving since roughly 1992. (Before that time, California went for Republican presidents in the six previous cycles, and the state was not nearly as “blue.”)
In Tuesday’s election all the top statewide races went to Democrats, save one, the Insurance Commissioner, Steve Poizner, who was a Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur and moderate Republican running against a damaged Democrat who was dogged by accepting illegal contributions, among other things. US Senator Diane Feinstein had a bigger landslide than Arnold at about 25 percent. And Dems won for Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Controller, Treasurer, and Attorney General.
# The US Congressional delegation stayed overwhelmingly Democrat, with Dems bringing down or seriously challenging even conservative Republicans who had been entrenched in their red state-ish districts inland. The notorious Richard Pombo, the seven-term member of the House leadership, fell to a political newcomer.
That Congressional delegation will be led by San Franciscan Nancy Pelosi, soon to be the first female speaker of the house. (Where would you look to see the manifestation of her politics?) And Ellen Tauscher, another representative from the Bay area, will head the more centrist but still generally progressive New Democrat Coalition in the new House too.
# Both California’s state houses stayed lopsidedly in control of progressive Democrats. The key leaders are from progressive bastions of the state: Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez is from Los Angeles, and Senate President Pro tem Don Perata is from Oakland. These houses have been the ones serving up the progressive proposals of the last legislative cycle – not Schwarzenegger. Arnold has been glomming onto the bills and signing them, or trying to one-up their initiatives, which have been big and bold.
# Californians approved $40 billion in public works spending this election, which will some from a series of bonds that had to be approved at the ballot box. All but one did. These bonds will go to finance roads and levees and schools and low income housing. This is the kind of public investment that is reminiscent of past eras of progressivism. Big, bold, and needed.
# That said, a series of proposed tax increases were voted down by Californians. The most high profile example was a proposition that would have taxed oil production in the state and invested the money, as much as $4 billion, in alterative energy research and development. This measure was defeated, partly because of $100 million spent on television advertising by the oil companies that would have been taxed. Another proposition was to put another $2.60 tax on a pack of cigarettes. Voters struck that down too, perhaps because it was overreaching.
(There is some learning to be done about how 21st century progressivism will work in the wake of decades of conservative brainwashing about never allowing new taxes.)
# The more progressive viewpoint prevailed on four other stateside propositions, including one on parental notification for abortion, and putting restrictions on the public's right of eminent domain. In other words, conservative attempts to push their agenda through state initiatives were beaten back by the California electorate.
What does all this add up to? In the coming weeks, all eyes are going to look to the Democrats of the US House and Senate to put forth their progressive agenda that will replace the discredited conservative one. Many Democrats, not to mention average Americans, are worried that progressives don’t have an alternative agenda.
In fact, there has been a progressive experiment going on in that test-bed of the future, the state of California. There are a lot of progressive ideas about what to do about global warming, and health care, and the minimum wage, etc. There are many fully-baked policies and legislation about how to move those ideas into law. And there are a lot of precedents about how a progressive majority might conduct itself in power in the early 21st century. It’s a long way from perfect, but it’s more than just a start.
It is a glimpse of a possible future, right here in California. Tune in and check it out.
As we continue to read about what led to last night's results, we constantly hear explanations framed around Iraq, the economy, and the need for change. Yet we can't forget to include, as Simon notes, one of the great examples of how the GOP lost its way: immigration reform.
In today's press conference, President Bush said that he thinks Congress has a better chance of passing comprehensive immigration reform, which he supports, with a Democratic Congress:
Q Thank you, Mr. President. On immigration, many Democrats had more positive things to say about your comprehensive proposal than many Republicans did. Do you think a Democratic Congress gives you a better shot at comprehensive immigration reform?
THE PRESIDENT: You know, I should have brought this up. I do. I think we have a good chance. Thank you. It's an important issue and I hope we can get something done on it. I meant to put that in my list of things that we need to get done.
As the Weekly Standard pointed out, "If Republicans don't grab this issue, Democrats will." Judging by his comments today, the President seems to acknowledge that the Republicans had an unrealistic, malicious view of the issue and dropped the ball. It's up to the Democrats to pick it up and deliver our plan for comprehensive reform for America.
(FYI, Latinos voted with the Democrats 69-30% according to these exit polls from CNN)
The President also noted that he sees minimum wage, another issue NDN has been involved with, as another issue he can find common ground on:
Q Mr. President, I'd like to ask you, Nancy Pelosi has been quite clear about her agenda for the first 100 hours. She mentions things like raising minimum wage, cutting interest rates on student loans, broadening stem cell research, and rolling back tax cuts. Which of those can you support, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: I knew you'd probably try to get me to start negotiating with myself. I haven't even visited with Congresswoman Pelosi yet. She's coming to the Oval Office later this week; I'm going to sit down and talk with her. I believe on a lot of issues we can find common ground. And there's a significant difference between common ground and abandoning principle. She's not going to abandon her principles and I'm not going to abandon mine. But I do believe we have an opportunity to find some common ground to move forward on.
In that very same interview you quoted, one of these three characters asked me about minimum wage. I said, there's an area where I believe we can make some -- find common ground. And as we do, I'll be, of course, making sure that our small businesses are -- there's compensation for the small businesses in the bill.
"Say, why all the glum faces?" President Bush began his press conference today--it seemed from the outset that the press conference today, after Democrats had taken control of the House (and at least half the Senate seats at the time of this post) and the announcement of the resignation of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, would be one to watch.
But besides the mishandling of the English language and the quasi-sexist comments about helping soon-to-be Madame Speaker Pelosi "pick out the new drapes in her new offices," the most surprising quote from the press conference today would have to be this:
My point is is that, while we have been adjusting, we will continue to adjust to achieve the objective. And I believe that's what the American people want.
Somehow it's seeped in their conscience that, you know, my attitude was just simply Stay the course. Stay the course means let's get the job done, but it doesn't mean staying stuck on a strategy or tactics that may not be working. So perhaps I need to do a better job of explaining that we're constantly adjusting.
If you haven't seen this DNC ad from two weeks ago, now would be a good time to take a look.
It's not difficult to see that since May 2003, when the President declared "Mission Accomplished," that the news cycle regrading Iraq hasn't changed much--rising US-casualties, sectarian violence, and a President who wanted to "stay the course until the job is done." In electing Democrats yesterday, the American people showed their distrust that the President's "course" (and staying that "course") was something that would benefit America.
Just a quick update: voters approved minimum-wage increases in Arizona ($6.75), Missouri ($6.50), Montana ($6.15), Nevada ($6.15 an hour if employers don't provide health benefits), Ohio ($6.85), AND Colorado ($6.85).
As many of you know, NDN's minimum wage media campaign ran in AZ and CO, so these results are good news for us.
- Last night the American people made it clear that they had grown weary of the failures and partisanship of the Bush era, wanted a new direction, and got one. After giving Republicans the nation in 1994, the American people just gave the nation back to the Democrats. Democrats now have a majority in the House, among governors and state legislative chambers, and apparently the US Senate.
- With these Democratic gains in all regions of the country the American people have not only choosen a new direction, but a more progressive one. While many of the newly elected Democrats will join the Blue Dog and New Democrat caucuses, in almost every instance the Democrat who won their race was ideologically to the left of the Republican they beat. Every type of Democrat won last night, Northeastern, Midwestern, Southern, Texan, Western, liberal, moderate, conservative and many whose ideology defies easy description and should be best described just as a Democrat.
- The Republicans can no longer be called the dominant party in American politics, as Democrats are now clearly competitive in all regions of the country. 42 of the 50 states either have a Democratic Senator or Governor (The 8 states without a major statewide Dem are AK, AL, GA, KY, MS, SC, TX and UT). The country remains, however, very evenly divided. Both parties now competitive in all regions of the country, with Republicans largely holding on their advantage in the South and Democrats making gains in Florida, the North, Mid-West and West. It is fair to say that heading into 2008 neither party hold a significant advantage, and the GOP/conservative ascendency has ended. It is a "jump ball" for control in 2008 with both parties starting out evenly matched, without a great advantage and Democrats perhaps having a little more wind at their back.
- It was a day of reckoning for the conservative movement. As we wrote yesterday in an election day essay, "Given the extraordinary failure of conservative government to do the very basics - keeping us safe, fostering broad-based prosperity, protecting our liberties, balancing the books and not breaking the law - I think history will label this 20th century conservatism a success as a critique of 20th century progressivism, but a failure as a governing philosophy. It never matured into something more than an ivory-tower led and Limbaugh-fed correction to a progressivism that had lost its way."
- The exits showed that voters had many issues on their minds - Iraq, corruption, terrorism and the economy. There was no one single issue driving the outcome, but the unexpectedly high number of people citing "corruption" or "scandals" signals to me a real desire for leadership that focuses on solving the people's business rather than playing politics. In many ways this is the most important message of the election, and from listening to Pelosi and others last night one Democrats clearly understand. The Republicans lost because their government did not what it needed to do for the Ameican people. To succeed Democrats will have to focus not on politics and positioning but doing everything they can to work with the Republicans to solve the many problems facing the nation.
- Most of the gains for Democrats in the House came in the Mid-West and Industrial North, the older and more settled regions of the country. Democrats won two Southern seats, two in Florida and three in the Southwest but overall did not make major gains in the Sunbelt. More gains in these areas may come with the 8 or so races in recounts right now. Democrats got their new House majority without making major gains in the South, and are now the first non-southern based Congressional Majority since 1955. The Senate followed a similar pattern, with most of the gains in the older regions of the country.
- The new Democratic Congressional Majority has all the attributes one normally associates with majorities - ideological, generational and regional diversity. This new Democratic team is a diverse lot, from all regions of the country, from rural, exurban, suburban and urban areas. Leading this team isn't going to be easy, nor will it be easy to predict where it goes on major issues. An early test of Speaker Pelosi will be to guide her new team towards consensus on Iraq and the budget.
- Looking ahead to 2008, it is clear that Democrats have strengthened their position in the electoral college. Their base in the North has deepened; the great swing state of Ohio has become much more Democratic; they continued to make gains in the West; add an angered and trending Democrat Latino population, and an already trending-Democratic Southwest looks much more Democratic.
- The Republican Presidential field took a big hit last night. Allen and Frist now seem damaged beyond repair, but the big loser of the night was John McCain. He has hitched himself to the President's failed Iraq policy, which will be seen today as the main reason why the Republicans did so poorly at the polls.
- Even the two good stories for the GOP last night, the CA and FL governor's races, have bad news for Bush and his brand of Republicanism. Both Arnold and Charlie Crist publically distanced themselves from Bush, with Crist doing it very publically just this past Monday before the election by not showing up at a Bush rally designed to help him.
- The Democratic bench has gotten much deeper and stronger in the past few years. Not only are there many more Democrats elected to offices across the country, there are many more powerful and compelling leaders emerging. In addition to already successful Democrats like Warner, Edwards, Napolitano, Granholm, Richardson and Sebelius we now can add Deval Patrick, Eliot Spitzer, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Martin O'Malley, Bob Menendez, Rahm Emanuel, Barack Obama, Artur Davis, Antonio Villaraigosa, Gabriel Giffords, Gavin Newsom and many others to the growing pool of exciting, next generation leaders with a big future ahead.
- A sign of changing times. Our new Speaker is a woman, the Democratic frontrunner for President in 2008 is a woman, and the possible Presidential candidate with the most buzz is a young African-American Senator from the Mid-West.
Events of recent weeks have changed the outlook for 2008.
On the Republican side, Frist and Allen have been very damaged. Many of the other leading candidates - Romney, Guliani, Gingrich - have significant problems. And their frontrunner, John McCain, has been damaged by his embrace of the President's failed policy in Iraq, the issue that is causing the GOP so much trouble. McCain has also been weakened in the Republican Primary universe, as his championing of immigration reform has made him unacceptable to a sizeable part of a the electorate he needs to win his nomination. Their frontrunner and field look much less formable then a few days ago.
On the Democratic side, Warner's exit and Kerry's stumbles have opened the door for Barack Obama much wider. If he gets in, the Democratic field all of a sudden looks much more interesting, dynamic and stronger than the weakened Republican field.
In terms of the electoral college, the Dems have significantly strengthened their national position. They have deepened their hold on their base in the northern part of the country. Ohio, the most important swing state in the country, has swung wildly towards the Democrats. More gains will be made in the West, a region of the country trending much more Democrat. In the West, immigration has dramatically alienated Lations from the Republicans, further pushing states like AZ, CO, NM and NV towards the Democrats.
Looking ahead to 2008, I think it is fair to say that Democrat's chances have significantly improved in recent weeks, and the big loser of the night is John McCain.
Here's information from a chart that GOP insiders...are using as a cheat sheet:
Eight in the most likely gone category: PA-7, Weldon, OH-18, Ney open, IN-8, Hostettler, CO-7 Beauprez open, AZ-8, Kolbe open, NY-24, Boehlert open, PA-10, Sherwood, CT-4, Shays.
Eight in the expect to lose most of these unless something changes: TX-22, DeLay open, NC-11, Taylor (chart notes unfavorable trend in this race), IN-9, Sodrel, IN-2, Chocola (chart notes a favorable trend), FL-16, Foley open, OH-15, Pryce, PA-6, Gerlach, NH-2, Bass (unfavorable trend).
Here's the press realease from NCLR. It mentions immigration2006, which NDN is greatly involved with:
IMMIGRATION ISSUE DRIVING LATINOS TO THE POLLS, NEW SURVEY FINDS
Washington, DC – Half of Latino voters say they are "more enthusiastic" about voting this year than in previous elections, according to a new poll released today by the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO). Seventy-five percent rated their interest in the election between 8 and 10, compared to 56% in a survey conducted in late September. The survey of 1,050 registered and likely voters, which has a margin of error of + or - 3.2%, was conducted by Lake Research Partners and Public Opinion Strategies November 2-6.
"From all indications, Latinos are clearly fired up about the 2006 election. And this poll bears out what previous elections have demonstrated - that while immigration is not the Latino community's greatest concern, the issue continues to be its greatest motivator," noted Janet Murguía, NCLR President and CEO.
The survey found that education, the economy and jobs, and the war in Iraq continue to be the top concerns for Latinos, in that order. Yet, while only 9% ranked immigration as their top concern, a majority of Latinos (51%), including half of young voters, reported that immigration was the most important or one of the most important issues in deciding their vote.
"This poll shows that attempts to use immigration as a wedge issue in this election will backfire. All of the evidence suggests that candidates' positions on immigration will not make a difference with the vast majority of mainstream voters (see, for example, www.immigration2006.org), but will have a profound influence on whom Latinos will vote for today," stated Arturo Vargas, Executive Director of the NALEO Educational Fund.
Among its findings, the survey notes the key role that Spanish-language media and nonpartisan voter mobilization efforts are playing in Get Out the Vote efforts. About half of Latino voters overall and nearly half of young Latino voters 18-24 years old have heard ads or programs on radio or television urging them to vote or to get involved politically. Most Latinos also report being contacted about voting and the election, but only about one-third recalled being contacted by either political party. "Clearly, the work of our community and dozens of other organizations is being felt at the grassroots level," said Vargas.
The survey results also suggest strong linkages between likely voters and participants in the marches and rallies last spring in support of immigration reform, especially among young Latino voters. Nearly a third (29%) of voters overall and nearly half (45%) of young voters said that they, a family member, or close friend participated in the marches.
"This extraordinary level of participation confirms that interest in the rallies and marches spread far beyond the immigrant community. That, coupled with the survey's findings of strong and growing interest among Latinos in the election, should come as a warning to those elected officials who believe that immigrant bashing is a strategy without consequence," said Murguía, adding, "Not only has that strategy been rebuffed by the broader American electorate, but Latinos are taking notice of politicians willing to malign their community just to get elected."