Just by looking at the raw numbers, the election on November 2nd was historic. In the House of Representatives—in which all 435 slots were contested—Republicans gained 60 seats to secure a majority. In local legislative races, the GOP took 680 additional offices in a political swing that rivaled the post-Watergate Democratic takeover. Republicans outcompeted Democratic candidates in most of the contested gubernatorial races, and even managed to make gains in the Senate (albeit not enough for a majority).
For such a historic day, it was awfully boring to be a young voter.
I guess Princeton has put me in a political bubble. What happens in Washington, or even in Trenton, doesn’t affect my day-to-day routine a great deal. I might not be the best person to ask. However, from my point of view, this year’s election felt unusually stagnant. It was bound to be less energetic than the Obama-McCain race in 2008, but it didn’t even match the energy I felt in 2006.
My hypothesis: the 2010 election was a match up between the boring and the incompetent. Dissatisfaction with Barack Obama—whether it was deserved or not—put wind at the GOP’s back. Political trends rather than individual candidates granted Republicans gains. A recent report by pollster Scott Rasmussen agrees that votes cast on the 2nd were against the Democrats, not for the Republicans.
For all its monotony, the clash of boring and incompetent did create some interesting, and often hilarious campaign stories.
__The Alaska Conundrum__
I still don’t know how Alaska let this one happen. Back in August, incumbent senator Lisa Murkowski, a pro-choice moderate Republican, lost to bombastic challenger Joe Miller in the party’s primaries. Granted, Miller had an impressive track record. He graduated with honors from West Point and went on to obtain a J.D. from Yale Law School. As an army captain, he received a Bronze Star in the First Gulf War and later briefly served as a magistrate judge.
Maybe Republican guru and Twitter-jockey Sarah Palin’s official endorsement during the primaries hurt Miller in the general election. People started to realize that the Republican nominee was more interested in debates from 1910 than 2010. He railed against “progressive” policies like a federal minimum wage, unemployment benefits and, yes, public schooling (even though Miller has a bachelor’s from West Point and a master’s from the University of Alaska). Joe Miller’s views on immigration were particularly hawkish. He considered East Germany—that was the _communist_ one—to have been a good example of how to secure a border.
By the time November rolled around, Miller was on track to lose, even among Republicans. The Tea Party cried foul, citing the ever-present “liberal media” as the real danger. The accusations fell on deaf ears. Miller’s political baggage allowed Murkowski to launch a successful write-in campaign. The votes are still being counted, but Murkowski may have taken back her seat.
__Kentucky Turns Back the Clock__
In the past few years, the GOP has spawned numerous factions. Some are liberal Republicans like Massachusetts’ Scott Brown, who are occasionally lampooned as Republicans In Name Only (RINOs, not elephants). A little to the right you can find politicians like John McCain, who flirts with both sides of the isle, whether for political gain or out of genuine confusion. Farther from the center there are small-government libertarians, secure-government neocons, and vaguely right-wing Tea Partiers.
Then there’s Rand Paul. His political views, like his name, are an unsavory union of Ayn Rand and Ron Paul (his actual father). Like Rand, Paul opposes the Federal Reserve Act of 1913, and blames the Fed for inflation and the “destruction of our Dollar [sic].” (http://www.randpaul2010.com/issues/h-p/inflation/) Paul does not, however, share the Objectivist author’s distaste for religion. Kentucky’s junior senator opposes abortion, even in cases of rape and incest, and would support a Human Life Amendment.
Rand Paul follows in his father’s footsteps by opposing the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT) Act. He also was against the initial invasion of Iraq. But Paul rules out any possible bipartisan appeal by opposing government “interference” with gun rights or healthcare. Like Joe Miller, Rand Paul opposes the Department of Education’s very existence.
Despite his off-the-wall views, Paul the Younger managed to win his election by a nearly 12-point margin. Kentucky’s Republican incumbent had retired, so the election didn’t grant the GOP a new seat. However, the race proved that someone like Rand Paul could win, which is perhaps more telling.
__O’Donnell’s Bewitched Past Catches up with Her__
For those who are curious, Christine O’Donnell did not win Delaware’s open senate seat. Those who don’t know Christine O’Donnell should be given food and water immediately, because they must have been locked deep within Fort Knox for the past six months.
__Specter’s Specter Won’t Haunt Pennsylvania__
After Democratic incumbent Arlen Specter announced his imminent retirement from the Senate, Pennsylvania’s swing seat went up for grabs. Two Congressmen, Democrat Joe Sestak and Republican Pat Toomey, answered the call.
Sestak’s name stirred up distant memories of the 1990s remake of Land of the Lost and little else. A Google search revealed that Michelle Malkin beat me to the bunch on the Sestak-Sleestak connection, but also informed me that Sestak was actually a respected naval officer. His military background did not prevent him from taking left-wing stances on foreign policy, as his views uniformly fell along party lines.
Toomey was a standard-issue Republican candidate. His socially conservative and small-government views helped him court Pennsylvania’s Tea Party vote. I was surprised that Pennsylvania, a swing state, voted in such a conservative candidate, even if it was only by a small margin. I suspect that the state’s moderate Republicans voted against Sestak rather than for Toomey. Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Pennsylvania’s choice is truly a sign of changing times.
__California Chickens Out__
California had a lot of opportunities this year. On the right, the GOP had a chance to take the senate and retain the governor seat. From the left, Democrats could have advanced marijuana legalization. As per California tradition, none of these things happened.
In the senate race, Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer faced off against former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. The voter’s choice was essentially between an embarrassing apple and a dishonest orange. Few can forget Senator Boxer’s patronizing behavior towards David Petraeus during the general’s senate hearings. An alternative to Boxer would be a welcome change. Unfortunately, the GOP’s answer wasn’t convincing enough for voters.
Carly Fiorina ran on a platform of business savvy. Ten years ago, she blazed the trail for businesswomen as a major figure in the new millennium. However, HP’s lackluster performance following the Fiorina-recommended Compaq buyout lead to her fall from grace. The company’s board voted Carly Fiorina out of office in 2005 with $20 million in severance pay. Had Fiorina not centered her campaign on her business experience, she may have been a less off-putting candidate. Despite being a relatively moderate candidate, Fiorina lost to Boxer by a wide margin.
The gubernatorial race was exciting for Republicans, but so dull for the left that the net excitement was practically zero. Unable to find an intriguing candidate, Democrats scraped the very bottom of their political barrel to find Jerry Brown, a derelict who served as California’s governor in the mid-1970s. Despite the dryness of this choice, Brown’s previous governorship resulted in a $5 billion state surplus. Even if he wasn’t a young name, given the left’s slim pickings Brown was still a politically smart choice.
As for Republican challenger Meg Whitman, I was not too impressed. The former CEO of eBay (who is apparently also a Princeton graduate), —— ——– —- ———– —– ———— and — —- — —– although she did find common ground with Brown on immigration policy. In terms of taxes, ——– —– ——— — —- — —– — — —– ———— —– ——- — ——– Whitman — ——- —— —– —– — — —– was ——– —- —- —— — —- —— — — —— a —- —— — — ——- — —– moderate —- — ——- —- —– — —– and reasonable ———- —- ——- — —– — —– candidate. —– — —– —- ——— However, she did champion some liberal stances. Whitman supported abortion rights and same-sex domestic partnerships.
Many had high hopes for California’s Proposition 19. Taxes on cannabis, which ABC recently named America’s most valuable cash crop, could help lift California out of a budget crisis. Despite these temptations, California voters ultimately decided the mild narcotic was too dangerous to let loose on the streets legally.
__Florida’s Illustrious Marco Rubio__
There _were_ some charismatic Republicans gunning for seats. Naturally, as with any Republican under 50 years old, Marco Rubio has been lauded as a possible 2012 presidential contender. After this month’s race, I wouldn’t be opposed to the idea. Florida’s senator-elect has at least more energy than any GOP presidential nominees in recent memory.
Television has taught me that four kinds of people live in Florida: retirees, Walt Disneyworld employees, serial killers, and Cuban exiles. Marco Rubio finds himself in the last of these categories. However, the junior senator-elect hasn’t let his life fall into the predictable “son of a refugee becomes political success” trope. Rubio has an immaculate political history, highlighted by his book, _100 Innovative Ideas for Florida’s Future_. I can’t say if I’d agree with all of his ideas, but Rubio’s initiative and enthusiasm have already set him apart from other newly elected officials. I look forward to seeing how his term plays out.
Luckily, Americans never need to wait long for another election. Like the Olympic games, there is always another two years away. So if you’re down in the dumps about the boring election season, fear not. Primaries will be back before you know it.