A Nevada district that includes the key battleground counties of what has become a pivotal swing state votes Republican by a twenty-two-point margin—despite the fact that the district has a large population of voters who are unemployed or underemployed, and despite the fact that one of the most critical issues of the contest was the future of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
By any measure, Tuesday’s special elections in New York and Nevada produced the worst set of results for Democrats in such a circumstance since the party lost Ted Kennedy’s US Senate seat in the January 2010 special election in Massachusetts. To suggest otherwise, is comic, and politically dangerous for Democrats.
The danger is that Democrats will not learn from their losses. And make no mistake, these were serious losses.
In New York’s 9th district, Barack Obama ran two points ahead of his national average to take 55 percent of the vote in 2008. Two years later, in 2010, Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner won re-election with over 60 percent of the vote. On Tuesday, the guy Weiner trounced in 2010 won with 53 percent of the vote. That’s a 13 percent swing from the Democrats to the Republicans from 2010, and a 15 percent swing from 2008.
In Nevada’s 2nd district, Obama essentially tied John McCain in 2008, with 49 percent of the vote each. Obama carried key counties in the district and, following upon a very strong showing for the Democrats in the 2006 US House race, stirred talk that a traditionally red district might be turning blue—or at least purple. Strike that. Tuesday’s results gave Republican Mark Amodel a 58-36 win. Amodel achieved a nine-point Republican to Democrat swing from 2008 and a fourteen-point Republican to Democrat swing from 2006—the last time Democrats seriously competed for the seat. In areas of the district that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid won convincingly in 2010—not a particularly good year for the party—this year’s Democrat trailed by 10 percent or more.
These are devastating numbers. They can be spun with talk about the relative strengths and weaknesses of candidates and “local factors.” But that spin does Democrats a tremendous disservice. The party needs to get its act together. And it won’t do so by explaining away major swings to the Republicans in a district (New York’s 9th) where they should have won easily and in a district (Nevada’s 2nd) where they should have been highly competitive.
Even the Democrats who were spinning the hardest on Tuesday night and Wednesday acknowledged—not for attribution, of course—that voting patterns of the sort seen Tuesday would give Republicans a clean sweep in 2012.