Matt Ingoglia: Wishful thinking

Like many of you, I wasn’t altogether surprised when I flipped to Monday’s Hatchet opinions section and found my friend Andrew Clark penning his latest obituary of the Democratic Party. Though I usually enjoy his writing and often find his points at least defensible, I found his analysis of last week’s elections breathtakingly misleading.

Lets start with the basics. This should be obvious, but nothing about the 2009 elections indicates any sort of “collapsed majority.” While I don’t dispute that my party took a serious drubbing in Virginia and my home state of New Jersey, it’s important to remember that off-year electorates always have, and always will, differ greatly from the crowds that elect presidents.

Let’s draw an analogy to life here at school: Picture the students who would show up for a midterm review session if it were scheduled during a normal class period. That group is probably an accurate portrayal of the class at large, and analogous to the voters who swept Barack Obama into office.

Now imagine the students who would attend a midterm study session held at 8:00 a.m. on a Friday. These extremely passionate classmates (I call them “curve-wreckers”) are not exactly the most representative sample of the class, right? This incomplete representation is comparable to the people who voted in the 2009 round of elections.

Of course, that fact alone doesn’t invalidate last week’s results. But it does complicate any attempt to spin the outcomes as evidence of a larger Republican resurgence.

Clark can deny it all he wants, but the Old Dominion is turning blue fast. Republican Bob McDonnell triumphed because he recognized this reality and campaigned on bread-and-butter economic issues. By avoiding his problematic social beliefs, McDonnell frustrated Democratic nominee Creigh Deeds’ attempts to run as a blue dog Democrat in an increasingly liberal state. In fact, a majority of Democrats called Deeds too conservative and criticized his campaign’s avoidance of President Obama in a post-election poll. And while McDonnell did win the youth vote, it’s impossible to discern how our demographic would have broken down had McDonnell run against a genuine Democrat. Indeed, over two-thirds of the 18 to 29-year-old vote sat the race out, indicating displeasure with both options.

Likewise, New Jersey’s election focused on local issues to which the national Republican Party seems oblivious. It was far from a referendum on President Obama, who outperformed his 2008 margin by garnering a 62 percent approval rating in exit polls. Furthermore, if the voters wanted to reject Democratic policies as Clark argues, why did only one state assembly seat switch parties? Clearly, the evidence indicates a backlash against a lackluster governor, rather than a repudiation of progressive orthodoxy. Expect Governor Christie to find himself stymied by the liberal legislature; Republicans will hate it, but that’s Jersey for you.

Lastly, interpreting the special elections in California and New York as anything but definitive Democratic wins is laughable. John Garamendi’s victory in California’s 10th district was never in doubt, and provides the Democratic majority with one more progressive advocate. Additionally, any attempt to discredit Garamendi’s 11-point margin of victory by contrasting it with former incumbent Ellen Tauscher’s 2008 landslide demonstrates a misunderstanding of incumbency. Does anyone really expect the winner of an abbreviated special election campaign to replicate a seven-term veteran congresswoman’s most recent win? I think not.

If you want a window into the future, look at the election in New York’s 23rd district. Hopelessly tethered to their party’s radical wing, Republicans will contend that conservative Doug Hoffman’s narrow loss to Democrat Bill Owens portends a grassroots right-wing revolution.

They’d have you forget that party infighting forced Republican nominee Dede Scozzafava to drop out and throw her support behind Owens, who went on to put the seat in Democratic hands for the first time since the Civil War.

Republicans endorsing Democrats? Now that’s change I can believe in.

The writer, a junior majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet columnist.

Readers can visit The Forum to comment on this column.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.