News24

US: A split party could split results

2012-06-20 09:23

New York - Democrats in conservative states are finding it tricky to walk hand-in-hand with President Barack Obama as America’s current political divisions are arguably stronger than they have been before.

Years of congressional infighting, a polarised electorate, the death of Blue Dogs and moderate Republicans and an economic recession have complicated and almost militarised supporters of each party into splintered factions.
 
As you might know, the three tiers of the US executive (House of Representatives, the Senate and the Presidency) in American elections are usually decided on fine margins.

All sides have their premier political philosophies but are forced to aggressively court the independents and those who just haven’t made up their mind.

Most of these folks sit in the middle of the electorate, but the middle in a conservative state like Arizona is not quite the same middle as you will find in a liberal state like New Hampshire, for example.
 
For Democrats this is clearly displayed in two recent events in rather conservative states: Arizona and West Virginia. Due to the aforementioned conditions, it is difficult for the disparate Democrat Party to unite behind its candidate, President Barack Obama.

Hesitant on Obama

Two weeks ago one of the voting districts in Arizona held a special election to fill the seat of Democrat congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and the Democrat candidate, Ron Barber won.

Barber avoided speaking about the President during his run. He hardly mentioned Obama by name, implicitly because Obama is so unpopular in this conservative part of Arizona.

It’s not often you’ll find a member of a running party not seeking any assistance from the face of that party – in fact Barber hesitated when asked during a debate who he would vote for in the general election in November (he later clarified that he would vote for Obama).

This is very much a Republican-leaning district (in spite of Democrats holding a seat) – 25 000 more voters are registered Republicans in the district than Democrats.
 
West Virginia is another example. Both of the conservative state’s senators are Democrats, one of whom is a chap called Joe Manchin who is up for re-election this year.

Quite why Manchin is a Democrat is beyond me, when one examines his policy positions, but that’s another story.

Getting away from federal politics

Manchin, West Virginia governor Earl Ray Tomblin and one of the state’s three representatives in the House, Nick Rahall announced on Tuesday that they will not attend the Democratic National Convention later this year – ie, they will not be there to re-nominate Obama as the party’s candidate for president.

While they are trying to flub the excuse that not all campaigning incumbents attend party conferences, it has been pretty clear that they are getting as far away from federal party politics as possible.

Manchin has repeatedly said publicly that he is not sure which presidential candidate he will vote for in November.
 
In West Virginia this kind of nonsense is unlikely to change much – Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is way ahead in polls (although admittedly none have been taken in the state recently), and the state has voted for Republicans in presidential elections since 1996.
 
Although I am incredibly sceptical about it falling Democrat, Arizona is a different story. Although it is reliably Republican in presidential races (it voted to re-elect Bill Clinton in 1996, falling Democrat for the first time since Truman in 1948) its margins are tightening.

In fact there is a school of thought that (merely) speculates it may have gone Democrat in 2008 if the Republican presidential candidate, John McCain, wasn’t from there (McCain ended up winning it by 54% to 45%).

Democrats in Republican strongholds

This election cycle, polls have Romney less than five points ahead of Obama on average, with some showing a lead of only two points. But it is unlikely that Obama will be able to make any kind of impression if his own party members refuse to acknowledge their palpable ties to him.
 
This scenario could play out elsewhere, wherever Democrats are campaigning in Republican strongholds, such as Democrat Claire McCaskill who is defending her senate seat in Missouri – another Republican leaning state which, on the off chance, could go for Obama.

There are goings on in Montana and Nebraska. What may help one Democrat may not help another Democrat.
 
Although this scenario has happened in only a few locations thus far, they are all key in the final results of November’s general election as Democrats attempt to hold the Senate and the White House.

From the looks of things, it may be difficult to do both.