Manu Raju and Jonathan Allen of Politico have a piece that reflects quite perfectly how wrong Conventional Wisdom is. Going into Tuesday’s election, the CW was that (1) the election was a referendum on Obama and (2) New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial races had federal implications for 2010, while actual federal races in NY-23 and CA-10 didn’t (well, unless the teabagger candidate in NY-23, Doug Hoffman, won). The CW manifests itself off the bat in the Politico piece today:
Election Day losses in Virginia and New Jersey have congressional Democrats focused like never before on jobs — their own.
This sentence could just have easily been recast:
Election Day losses in traditionally conservative districts in New York and California have congressional Republicans focused like never before on jobs — their own.
Election Day victories in traditionally conservative districts in New York and California have congressional Democrats focused like never before on accomplishing President Obama’s agenda.
But both of those castings cut against Conventional Wisdom, and so they are simply impossible to think. Democratic victories being good things for Democrats is simply a lacuna for the Beltway Conventional Wisdom set.
I’ll say that I think New Jersey is an outlier – Corzine’s loss was connected to a horrible economy that voters didn’t see him doing enough to fix. It was indicative of an anti-incumbent backlash around local issues.
Virginia, on the other hand, was lost because Creigh Deeds refused to campaign on the issues and attitudes that delivered the state to Barack Obama in 2008. He ran away from Democratic positions on health care reform, most notably the public option. He ran to the right on jobs and labor law reform. In essence, he was like so many other losing Democratic candidates in recent memory who bizarrely think being Republican Lite is helpful.
Contrast Deeds’ chickenshittery with the position of Bill Owens in NY-23, a district that Democrats hadn’t won since the mid-nineteenth century. Owens embraced President Obama’s agenda and came out in favor of a public option for health care reform. And he won. Likewise, John Garamandi won in California’s 10th congressional district. This seat had been held by the very conservative Democrat Ellen Tauscher and Conventional Wisdom held that you had to be, at minimum, a conservative Democrat to win there. But Garamandi came out not only in favor of the Obama agenda, but even staked out positions to Obama’s left on health care reform. And he won, too.
Looking forward to 2010, the lesson of 2009 should be clear. Democrats need to be strong in their commitment to a reform agenda, led by President Obama. They need to run as proud Democrats, which in some cases will mean running to Obama’s left. For Democrats in Republican leaning districts, it’s critical that they not try to be Republican Lite candidates. They need to show voters that they have ideas, that their ideas are good, and that they will bring change by staying in office and working alongside the Obama administration.
Now is not the time for Democrats to run to the right. Doing so is a proven recipe for failure. Just ask Creigh Deeds.