The Democrats and particularly my part-time Congressman, Rahm Emmanuel, are to be commended for running a very canny campaign to re-take the House. Mr. Emmanuel ably generalled the Democrats’ campaign, raising tons of cash and prudently manouvering candidates whose views were compatible with the districts in which they were running onto the ballot in many, many Congressional districts.
They won and there’s absolutely no substitute for victory.
But from what I see in the complete election results the reporting of the relative handful of exceptional contests in the House and Senate is obscuring the real result: incumbents were overwhelmingly returned to office. Scandals, local issues, and, on a marginal level, anger about the war in Iraq tipped the scales in a relative handful of races and now the Democrats dominate the House by a narrow margin, roughly the same narrow margin as the Republicans have maintained for the last twelve years.
There’s evidence that anger over the war in Iraq was not decisive in the victory however it may be painted otherwise in the press. Joe Lieberman, despite being the most outspoken and visible Democratic Party advocate for the war, was returned to office as an independent. I don’t see that as any kind of referendum on the war. I see it as a sign that citizens of Connecticut see Lieberman as having represented their views well overall over the years and the tremendous power of incumbency.
Iraq war vet Tammy Duckworth, despite an appealing story and a well-run campaign, failed to take the Illinois 6th Congressional District out of the Republican column. Her candidacy was only possible because of a nationalization of the race but in the final analysis local politics and loyalties put Peter Roskam in the seat held by Henry Hyde for many years. How have the other Democratic Iraq war vets faired?
Locally, the power of incumbency is exemplified by Democrat Melissa Bean’s successful holding of her seat in a rather conservative districtâ€”the district that returned Phil Crane to office year after year despite alcoholism, allegations of corruption, and sexual scandal. Incumbency held him in office until he got his hand caught in the cookie jar one too many times and incumbency is holding Melissa Bean there now.
That’s no sea change.
Will incumbency hold this new freshman class in office for a lasting Democratic majority in the House? Time will tell, I suppose.
Dale Franks of QandO disagrees categorically with my conclusion that Iraq was only the issue at the margins. He says it was mostly about Iraq:
The question, of course, is why did it happen?
First and foremost, I think, the War in iraq was the primary motivator. We’re losing there, and we’re doing so as a result of poor strategy, which the president has not heretofore seen fit to alter, and the Congress has not demanded an adequate accounting.
Will the Democratic leadership be able to escape their own rhetoric on Iraq? Or, as I suspect, will â€œphased withdrawalâ€, which I interpret as a euphemism for withdrawal as an objective without regard to the consequences, become the policy as it is apparently the prevailing wisdom?
I fear that we’re setting the stage for a disaster which will spread beyond the borders of Iraq.
That’s basically the way the Washington Post sees it, too:
The Democrats’ return to power in at least one house and gains in the other mean Bush will almost certainly face powerful pressure to reassess his Iraq policy — not just from Democrats but from within his own party. Even many Republicans hanging on last night emerged from a bruising election restive and looking for a fresh direction.
That reiterates a point I’ve made here and elsewhere: I think that Republicans will spearhead the movement to â€œreassess the Iraq policyâ€. I’ve been saying since 2003 that in 2008 both parties would be running against Bush.
YET ANOTHER UPDATE
Looking over the results of the Iraq and Afghan war vets who’ve run as Democrats against Republican incumbents or for open seats previously held by Republicans it appears to me that the results are decidely mixed. Tammy Duckworth lost as did Andrew Duck. Patrick Murphy is in a dead heat and the race is still undecided. Joseph Sestak defeated Curt Weldon.
It seems to me that while opposition to the war or the conduct of the war may have put a foot in the door local issues or, in the case of Weldon, corruption was the determining factor.
Again, my claim is not that the war is completely unimportant in explaining the results of the election. It is that the war was not a determining factor.
AND YET ANOTHER UPDATE
Joe Gandelman has solid analysis and his expected excellent round-up of opinion. I note in particular that Joe doesn’t give a single reason for the Democrats’ victory. This, I think, was the key: they didn’t rely on a single strategy. They did what was necessary to win victory in each district. The election wasn’t nationalized or localized. It was strategized.
I think that the election will be spun as an Iraq referendum pure and simple and we’re on our way out.