Sunday, Nov. 9, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Democrats won a big victory in Nevada Tuesday. That we know, but there are some other things to take away from the results.
1. Policy matters. During the past couple of years, Nevadans have lost homes, jobs and health care while watching their wages deteriorate as the cost of living rose. This happened on the watch of a Republican president. And although the financial meltdown can’t be blamed entirely on Republican governance, it did happen while a Republican was in the White House.
If Democrats don’t design and execute policies that solve problems and make a tangible difference in people’s lives, they’ll suffer the same fate in future elections.
People know how much money is in their wallets, and bad policy makes for bad politics.
2. Attacks can backfire. Both Sen. John McCain and Rep. Jon Porter unleashed all manner of personal attacks on their opponents, and both lost. Porter made some effort to link his attacks on his opponent, Democrat Dina Titus, to the economy, but the ads were largely false and the linkage felt like a stretch. Many Obama voters saw the McCain attacks as dangerous distractions from the country’s pressing problems, to the point of being offensive.
As for attacks on state Sens. Joe Heck and Bob Beers, the two Republicans who lost, it’s hard to know whether they were effective, but their Democratic opponents both likely underperformed Barack Obama.
It’s quite possible the only reason Heck nearly won is that so many voters — though not enough for him to prevail — saw through the cynical and transparent strategy of Democrats: Hide your weak candidate from the media and unleash attacks.
Have we entered an era of good feeling, in which campaigns don’t use negative advertising? Of course not. In fact, Obama probably spent more money in the end on negative advertising than McCain, except that Obama’s ads said McCain was going to tax health care benefits for the first time ever. In a time of economic dislocation, voters didn’t view this message as negative. They viewed it as true, and McCain’s health care plan as radical and scary.
3. Republicans did not lose in 2006 and 2008 because the legislatures they ran spent too much money. Sen. John Ensign said before the election that this explained this Republican defeat in 2006 and their projected loss in 2008. There’s no polling to support this. If it were true, why did Beers, the state’s champion of small government libertarianism, the glib enemy of all things government, lose by a fairly healthy margin?
The first step in recovering physical health is a diagnosis of what ails. This diagnosis is like telling a cancer patient that his disease has come from being left-handed.
The spending-like-a-drunken-sailor Republican Congress of the first half of the decade may have irritated talk radio and the Republican base, but that base still showed up in large numbers and backed McCain overwhelmingly.
Other than that fairly small and shrinking portion of the electorate, people actually like government spending, especially when it’s in their congressional district, and especially during a recession.
No, Republicans lost in 2006 because of the many scandals plaguing their members of Congress, and because the Iraq war had become a national nightmare.
This year, polls show, they lost because Americans felt their economic fortunes sliding as if off a cliff.
If Republicans continue to believe this absurdity about spending too much money and hugging the rhetoric of Herbert Hoover, they will continue to lose elections.
4. Organization. Organization. Organization. Throughout the fall, I would occasionally visit Republican headquarters in Henderson, and, aside from being surprised at how little work was getting done, especially by paid staff, I was alarmed hearing the calls volunteers made. They should have been aggressively recruiting other volunteers, identifying their voter universe, persuading and then pushing an early vote program. And recruiting more volunteers.
Instead, all they ever seemed to be doing, right up until the very end, was polling voters about their top issues.
The Obama organization, which trickled all the way down the ballot, was far superior, and essentially won the election before Election Day with its early voting program.
As my dad used to say about a basketball team that played well together, making the other team look bad, “They put on a clinic.”