The big lie that got conservatives through the 2010 election cycle with so much success—that budgets can be balanced by going after “waste, fraud and abuse”—began to unravel as soon as newly elected Republican governors began to draw up their budgets and House Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan tried to rebalance the federal paperwork by gutting Medicare.
Republican strategists had based their entire project on fostering the fantasy that Americans should be terrified about debt and deficits.
But then reality set in. Americans saw what the Republicans wanted to do in the name of debt reduction. And it was far more frightening than any number on the ledger page.
That shifted the political dynamic at the state level, where Democrats began winning special elections for legislative seats that should have stayed in Republican hands. And, now, Democrats could score their biggest victory of 2011, a redefining win in a contest for an open US House seat representing upstate New York.
The change in voting patterns that is taking place across the northern tier of the country, in states where Republicans made big gains in 2010 but are now threatened with serious setbacks, is striking.
Three weeks ago, in Wisconsin, a state Assembly seat vacated by a veteran Republican legislator who had resigned to become conservative Governor Scott Walker’s top aide should have been an easy hold. Republican Mike Huebsch had held the seat for sixteen years and state and national Republican organizations, as well as their corporate allies in Washington, were prepared to spend freely to retain it in the May 5 special election. But the controversy over Walker’s attempt to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights intervened, as did concerns regarding the governor’s plan to slash funding for schools and local governments across the state. That was an especially big deal in rural western Wisconsin—such a big deal that on May 5 voters selected Democrat Steve Doyle to fill the formerly Republican seat. “This victory is a resounding condemnation of Governor Walker’s anti-middle class agenda,” explained Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha. “Tonight there should be many Republican legislators who represent districts typically less Republican than this one, questioning why they have rubberstamped Governor Walker’s extreme policies and followed his divisive leadership…. This election is a rejection of misplaced budget priorities that harm working families, a rejection of anti-democratic power grabs, a rejection of special interests over middle-class families.”
Two weeks ago, in Maine, a state Senate seat where the previous contest had split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans was to be filled in a special election that pitted well-matched contenders and well-funded contenders from the two parties.Democrat Cynthia Dill, who was identified in local media as the “most vocal State House opponent” of Republican Governor Paul LePage’s reactionary economic and social agenda, won with 68 percent of the vote. After knocking on doors across the Portland area district, Dill declared, “I have not heard a single person raise any substantive issue other than Governor LePage and the crisis of leadership in Augusta. I mean, not a single person!” The Portland Press-Herald echoed that sentiment, with a top columnist writing: “Officially, the good citizens of Cape Elizabeth, South Portland and a slice of Scarborough elected themselves a new state senator this week. Unofficially, they also sent a message.” That message, the newspaper headline suggested, was “unmistakable.”