Sunday, November 12, 2006

Blue's Anatomy

While still coming out of a post-election haze and getting prepared for veto session, I wanted to attempt to briefly distill a couple of thoughts on the election.

First the big picture - Illinois and the rest of the country have never looked more blue. And while there is no doubt that the war played a large factor in the equation, I think that the result smacks of a more fundamental happening as well.

For a number of years now, I have been on the State Legislative Advisory Board of the Democratic Legislative Council, which is essentially the nesting place for centrist Democrats. I have aligned myself with the DLC because I believe that they are spot on in recognizing that the majority of our population resides in the ideological center and not on the respective fringes. I think that this election has ratified that belief.

For a number of years now, the Republican Party had been very effective in appealing to the centrist nature of many Americans, and the results were evident. But lately, for myriad reasons, the R's have been drifting to the right, and in so doing, they have left a void in the center. This has been especially evident in Illinois where moderate Republicans find themselves vilified, and abandoned, by their more conservative brethren.

This year, the Democratic party, under the national direction of my Congressman, Rahm Emanuel, acted decisively to seize this middle ground, on issues ranging from social policy to immigration to national security, and in so doing, made unprecedented gains. Locally, Illinois is bluer (sp?) than it has been in seventy years.

(On an aside, Rahm's efforts resulted in one of the funnier opening sentences I have ever seen in a political story:
Democrats across the country owe a big chunk of their new electoral success to a nine-fingered, ballet-dancing inspiration for a “West Wing” character with a reputation as a jerk.
Although technically, it's nine and one-half.)

I think that voters are becoming less likely to blindly follow party labels, and will increasingly support those candidates who espouse a message that resonates with them. This independence can be readily witnessed the ward where I live on the north side of Chicago where the results were all over the place. The results for some of the races are as follows:

L. Madigan 83%
Fritchey 80%
Blagojevich 59%
Stroger 46%

Now this ward had essentially no field operation in this election cycle, so I think that it provides a relatively objective view into the mindset of local voters. In the past, it would have been unheard of to see this much variance in party support, let alone a Republican carrying a major race like County Board President. These results show that at least for the near future, the rules of engagement have changed, with neither party being able to take any voting bloc for granted.

What remains to be seen is if the Democratic party will be mindful enough of the source of their fortunes to navigate a path that may not be as far left as some in the party may like. At the same time, it will be interesting to watch if the local Republican party recognizes the futility in trying to force an overly dogmatic approach onto a common-sense, mainstream electorate.

In both Washington and Springfield, the actions over the next six months could well chart the future for years to come.

UPDATE - I uncharacteristically didn't get to the Sunday papers until just now. Rick Pearson and John Chase have a very good article on the very subject of the Illinois Republican Party potential search for the center.

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