Lessons from New York Special elections
by Tom Donelson on September 14, 2011 at 6:21 PM
A few months ago, the New York Post summed up Anthony Weiner's dilemma and the New York Congressional ninth district with an editorial entitled “Erections have consequences.” The Post editorial on the former Congressman Anthony Weiner's internet adventures made it clear that what a congressman does online will have repercussions for the Party. For the Democrats, Weiner's internet posing cost them a congressional seat, and while Weiner was not the issue for voters, he would still be a rising Congressman on his way to the Mayor’s office if he had not been caught.
There are several lessons for Republicans dealing with 2012. The first lesson is that wedge issues matter. Wedge issues are those issues that may rank low on majority of voters' concern, but they do matter to a small minority enough that those voters would vote for or against candidates because of them. Abortion, Gun rights, Immigration reform and same sex marriage are wedge issues important to many voters; enough that they will consider a candidate stance on those issues. New York special elections have shown that we might add Obama's policy toward Israel as yet another wedge issue. The little secret is that issues like abortion, gun rights and same sex marriage benefit Republicans and conservatives since those who value these issues highly vote Republican more often than Democrats. (Opposition to same-sex marriage is an issue that will work for Republicans in 2012 but many younger voters across Party lines are more tolerant of gay rights, and this is a wedge issue that could work for Democrats in the future but in 2012, it is a wedge issue for conservatives.)
In New York last Tuesday, Israel treatment at the hands of the Obama administration and same-sex marriage were wedge issues that also worked against the Democrats. While the economy and Obama's handling of the economy was the number one issue, the wedge issues of protecting Israel and same sex marriage became significant factors. Democratic state Senator Ruben Diaz denounced David Weprin for Weprin's support of same-sex marriage in the New York legislation in robo calls, and many Jewish groups opposed Weprin for the same reason.
So the take away a point, wedge issues matter, and social issues in 2012 will not hurt Republicans, but enhance their vote totals in key areas that could matter in a close election. It could be the difference between winning a congressional seat or losing.
The second lesson is that Barack Obama will take the biggest blame for the economy and not the Republican Congress. In Nevada, the Republican candidate swept a special election on the same night as the New York election. The Democratic hope was that the unpopularity of congressional Republicans would give Democrats a chance to take back the house and help Obama's overall election prospect, but it shows that while Republicans may be as unpopular as Democrats, they will not be held responsible for the economy just as the Democratic-led Congress was not held responsible in 2008 for the failing economy.
The third lesson is that many of Democratic key constituents are up for grab. Republicans will not win a majority of Hispanics or the Jewish vote in 2012, but they can make significant inroads with the right campaign. In 2010, the economy rated high as a concern for many Hispanics and will in 2012. A carefully nuance campaign can allow the GOP to garner enough Hispanic votes to make a difference to win states like New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada and Florida. The right Hispanic campaign could net Republicans additional Senate seats in New Mexico and Florida while allowing them to keep an important seat in Nevada. Wedge issues like abortion and opposition to same-sex marriage along with the economy do matter to many Hispanics.
Jewish votes will be a factor in Florida and an issue like Israel does matter as a wedge issue. Depending on how Republicans handle social security and Medicare could turn Florida back to a red state.
So there are three lessons. Wedge issues matter in close elections. The second issue is that it is the economy, stupid, and it will be Obama who is held responsible. The third, enough of key Democratic constituents will either stay home or vote Republican.