First, it is important to say to the legislative candidates and staff who helped with the campaigns that they worked hard and should be proud o their efforts.
After all, it’s virtually impossible, especially in a year when Republicans are charged up with rage and Democrats are apathetic, to run a legislative campaign when one side has several million dollars and your side has squat. There was simply no cash available for Democrats; whereas millions in corporate cash, as I detailed in a recent post, were spent by conservative groups. In some races there were as many as a dozen negative mailers dropped against the Democrat, where as the Republican candidate would get maybe one or two, or maybe none.
Many legislative races should have been won by democrats that were not, because the resource disparity was simply too great. That’s showbiz. You need to go big or go home, and Dems couldn’t go big cuz the money wasn’t there. A few large corporate interests sent huge money into Montana to influence the election.
What they expect in return, and what they get, we will see.
This same problem existed in the Congressional race, where McDonald did not raise any money and was thus unable to explain to people who he was, what he believed in, and what is wrong with our current congressman.
Second, all politics is now national. Obama, who is famous for believing himself to have supreme political skills and judgment, has been utterly inept at articulating why his major initiatives are good things for America, and thus even I am beginning to wonder if they are. Even on the Jon Stewart show, where he was confronted with basic questions, he struggled to explain himself and limped through the interview. It’s tempting to blame Max Baucus, who laid a giant egg when he came up with the idea of leading the healthcare process and ended up co-opting it and royally screwing it up. But even that was Obama’s fault. A good leader doesn’t entrust national concerns to someone who cannot be trusted to get the job done. The president is a poor CEO and the White House has shown itself to have mediocre political skills since taking office. Hopefully now that there is an enemy, Obama will find his groove and get on the stick.
Third, my sense was that it took a long time for democratic legislative candidates, especially some of the more liberal incumbents, to get themselves focused on talking about the fact that Democrats in Montana balance budgets and have produced a strong economy, business climate and budget surplus and have cut more taxes than ever before in Montana history. Democrats shy away from that type of talk because they believe it makes them sound like Republicans. They believe they should be talking about programs and commitments and confusing policy. Compounding this is the fact that the Democratic party is controlled by the congressional delegation, who like to talk about national issues which, right now, are all very toxic to Democrats in Montana.
A leadership change within the legislature might be a good thing. Hopefully there will be some challengers.
On that subject, a few people in town have been upset by a report in Roll Call that Max Baucus raised massive amounts of cash for the Nevada Democratic party, and is reported to have sent at least 30 staffers to Nevada in the last week of the campaign, to help Harry Reid. Those resources could have been used in Montana, though I suppose they were equally necessary in Nevada where Reid got pulled over the finish line.
Democrats, especially legislators, should be proud overall, because everything that the Tea party claims to be concerned about — reckless spending and taxes — appears to have already been addressed by the legislature and the Governor, and so it’s unclear what the Republicans plan to attempt to accomplish beyond putting together a budget.
In general, the Republican legislative campaign was a well-funded machine designed to excite a bunch of excitable but largely ignorant voters who turned out in spades. We will see where it all goes.
There were a few bright spots, notably the final exit of Roy Brown, who I predict will not be back. Roy is a tough politician, but his downfall was that he peddled lies from the beginning of his campaign, and never stopped lying. He lied about his opponent, he lied about Democrats generally and about their record in the state. He unfortunately met an opponent who knows how to get voters to see truth versus lies, and who also knows how to bring a gun to a gunfight. Kendall Van Dyk wasn’t afraid to burn Brown down when Brown went negative, and it worked. An impressive victory. Also, a note to organizers: Van Dyk had a highly organized system by which he identified likely Van Dyk voters, delivered them absentee ballots and then collected them. It’s what put him over the top. He should give a lecture on it and focusing on direct voter contact over ads and other tactics such as running his own Get Out the Vote machine given that the democrats didn’t run a GOTV program for the first time since the 1960s.