Yes, yes, we’ve all heard the “all-politics-is-local” bromide with regard to off-year elections.
While it is no longer an operative, let alone true, statement – as the nationalized election cycles of the Bush years so clearly confirmed — there is one certainty with regard to the pop punditry of former House Speaker Tip O’Neill: Winning players and parties never use it, while losers invariably rely on it.
O’Neill, himself, never took the local line all that seriously when Democrats were doing well. Famously, he hailed the off-year election results of 1981 (Democrats won the Virginia governorship and lots of mayoralties) as a signal that his party was coming back from the battering it had taken a year earlier at the hands of Ronald Reagan’s Republicans.
So don’t buy the “analysis” that says that the odd assemblage of local, state and national elections that will be held tonight will offer little or nothing in the way of insight regarding the political zeitgeist.
In fact, we will get indications tonight about the strength of Barack Obama’s presidency and the Democratic Party, about the collapse or resurgence of the Republican Party, about “Tea Party” pressure, independent politics and social policy. This is the 2009 election, not the 2010 election, and much can change in a year. But signals sent tonight will shape decisions and strategies with regard to next year’s House and Senate races.
The only question has to do with how clear the signals will be.
Here are four scenarios for considering the results:
SCENARIO ONE: “HAPPY DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN”
Moderate Democrat Bill Owens wins the special-election to fill a historically Republican U.S. House seat in upstate New York and progressive John Garamendi holds a Democratic seat in a California special.
Maine voters make their state the first to back same-sex marriage in a referendum and Washington state voters preserve civil union protections (“same-sex registered domestic partnership”).