Two Conflicting Worldviews on the 2010 Elections

This entry was posted by Monday, 19 July, 2010
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What are this year’s Midterm Elections about? Well, it depends on whom you ask.

Ask Republican Congressional candidate John Doe, and the answer will be something like this:

“I’m running against Congresswoman Mary Smith, who has been lockstep with President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Congressional Democrats.  In the middle of a recession and rising unemployment, they are only making matters worse by increasing government spending, raising taxes, and expanding government control of the economy.  Vote Republican to fire Mary Smith and Nancy Pelosi and send a message to Obama.”

If you ask his opponent, Democratic incumbent Rep. Mary Smith, she might answer:

“The election is about helping the people here in {YOUR STATE} who are struggling with unemployment, rising health care costs and a shaky economy.  That’s why I fought for extended unemployment benefits, health insurance reform, and federal funds to create jobs here in {YOUR TOWN}.  We can go backwards by electing John Doe and the Republicans who got us into this mess, or we can keep moving forward. By the way, did I mention that John Doe is a right-wing extremist Tea Partier who wants to take away your Social Security?”

Okay, so these are exaggerations, but the point is this: elections are always about choices, and he who frames the choice to his advantage often wins.

Republicans will win big in every competitive district where the election is “nationalized.”  Even Democrats agree the economy, which polls consistently rate as voters’ number one concern, is in the pits.  If the choice is between a nameless Democratic incumbent who is a front for the national Democratic Party (Obama, Pelosi, etc.), and an alternative, then independent voters will default to the (Republican) alternative.

Unless…Democrats can localize the race and frame it as a choice between a Congressman fighting for the local community and an extremist who cares more about partisan name calling/is corrupt/is too extreme/fill in the blank.  Some Democrats in conservative districts may also be able to differentiate themselves from the national Democratic party by pointing to key votes against Obama initiatives such as health care reform and cap-and-trade (both of which passed despite opposition from dozens of conservative Democrats).

Campaigns matter: the candidate that wins in many swing districts will be the one with the campaign best able to frame the election choice according to their “worldview.”  Communicating that message effectively takes financial resources, a smart campaign team, a well-crafted message, and the discipline to stick with it.  Democratic campaigns that run smart campaigns may well be able to withstand a coming Republican wave; conversely, well-organized Republican challengers may be able to capitalize on a pro-Republican (or at least anti-Democratic) national environment.

How this choice is framed, district-by-district, will ultimately determine who controls the House and Senate come January, 2011.

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