Friday, October 28th, 2016

Is Virginia the horse’s head tossed into Barrett’s bed?


If Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett decides by the end of the week to run for governor, he is going to be facing an even more daunting task than what Creigh Deeds faced in Virginia.

Republicans scored a major victory in the elections in Virginia last Tuesday. They swept the three statewide offices and reversed Democratic hopes of turning the state into a blue state. The election was devastating for Democrats in Virginia, and a complete reversal of fortune from last year’s presidential election. Whether the election was a referendum on the popularity of President Obama or just the natural swing of politics, Virginia’s election may foreshadow Wisconsin in 2010.

Republicans even made remarkable gains among urban voters.

Like Webb, Tester and McCaskill, Deeds needed a big turnout in urban areas. He didn’t get it. Instead, the Republican, Robert McDonnell, reversed recent trends in the state, winning nearly 54% of the urban vote. Turnout was down in the rest of the state, compared to the governor’s race four years ago — especially in rural areas. But the number of voters increased slightly in the urban and exurban counties in Northern Virginia.

That the Republican was able to reverse the conventional wisdom and gain support with increased turnout in urban areas should make Democrats nervous. Barrett’s likely opponent, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, has already been building a base in Milwaukee County. Walker’s fight with the Milwaukee County Board over the budget has been a boost to his organizing efforts. We could be tempted to believe the county board is secretly trying to help Walker’s campaign by trying to pass the wheel tax.

Granted the elections for county executive are non-partisan, and that Walker is likely to experience a drop off in support during a partisan race. However, Barrett’s people will have to ask themselves whether the drop off will be significant enough for the Democratic candidate to rack up the huge majority needed in the county (and in Dane County) to offset the support Republicans traditionally receive outside Wisconsin’s two largest urban centers.

Barrett will also have to deal with the enthusiasm gap heading into next November. Milwaukee’s Democrats are largely against Barrett’s proposal to take over MPS, including the African American leadership. The Ed Garvey wing of the party and the teachers unions are not backers of the project, either. Barrett has little to offer them to restore their enthusiasm for his campaign.

Turnout of urban African Americans is key to the Democrats’ hopes in 2010. An unmotivated turnout machine, without Barack Obama at the top of the ticket, is not going to produce the same results as 2008.

Backlash against the overreach of the Obama Administration, the unpopularity of Governor Doyle and his policies, and likely high unemployment can only help fuel Republican enthusiasm at the polls next November. The most important turnout ally for the Republicans will be the economy. Exit polls in Virginia show just how much:

Perhaps most striking were economic views: A vast 89 percent in New Jersey and 85 percent in Virginia said they were worried about the direction of the nation’s economy in the next year; 56 percent and 53 percent, respectively, said they were “very” worried about it.

Voters who expressed the highest levels of economic discontent heavily favored the Republican candidates in both states – underscoring the challenge Obama and his party may face in 2010 if economic attitudes don’t improve. The analogy is to 1994, when nearly six in 10 voters said the economy was in bad shape, and they favored the out-of-power Republicans by 26 points, helping the GOP to a 52-seat gain and control of Congress for the first time in 42 years.

In Virginia on Tuesday, voters who were “very” worried about the economy concern supported the Republican winner, Bob McDonnell by a wide margin, 77-23 percent.

Against Barrett, Walker could force an even split of Milwaukee County’s vote. If that happens, we’re likely to see a huge election night for Walker and the Republican Party, and the electoral map of Wisconsin will look like Virginia’s.

Regardless of Barrett’s personal considerations, ultimately he will have to decide whether he wants to risk looking like Tom Loftus when the election is over – completely unelectable statewide. Or will Barrett wait until a more favorable time for Democrats? After all, he is not that old, and he is unlikely to be seriously challenged as mayor.

When Barrett looked at the bloody mess of Virginia the morning after, was it with horror? Or was it relief that his decision was made that much easier?

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