Let Me Set Things Straight: Post Special Election 2009

As I see lost of smoke, sound, and fury on various blogs regarding the recent special election, it occured to me that someone should put their foot down and lay out how things are.

I imagine you can guess who I think that foot should be.

1. Sharon Bulova won the election, Pat Herrity did not.  His showing is not a mandate for change.  However, for Ms. Bulova, a 20 year incumbent, to win in blue Fairfax by a narrow margin-not to mention holding a majority by only six votes, suggests that there are more people out there than she was willing to acknowledge during the campaign that want things done differently in Fairfax.  If the Democratic controlled board does not get spending under control fast then they are in for big troubles come 2011, because…

2. GOP candidates always run better when they can focus on governance.  As long suggested by Maslow, there is a hierarchy of needs in life. I suggest this hierarchy impacts what issues are important to voters.


The GOP slide has been associated with not having a real or perceived focus on the issues most important to voters.

The GOP in the Reagan years by focusing on tax and defense issues, items that strike at fundamental needs in the hierarchy.  The Contract with America focused on governance issues, again with great success.  But there was an underlying current seeking a greater focus on social issues, which was used brilliantly to create wedge issues that assured a small but consistent and unified GOP edge in the Congress, and (combined with defense support) saw the GOP through to narrow Presidential victories in 2000 and 2004.

Problem-post 2004 a series of White House execution miscues (“Great Job, Brownie”), local electoral miscues (example-Hitler ad, “Macaca”), and a generally worsening economy caused the GOP to lose ground.  Electoral discontent, on top of a perception of the GOP as rigid and narrow, has diminished the GOP reputation. 

Social issues have always been with us, but no social issue (as opposed to fundamental rights) has been the basis for a successful long term political movement.  Example-Civil Rights or Prohibition…which has the longer term significance?  Questions about abortion or prayer in school have little chance of turning an election when people are worried about losing their jobs.

The GOP does better when it focuses on issues that go to or impact fundamental human needs.  The more it gets wrapped up in issues higher up the pyramid, the less well it will do.  If the GOP focuses on governance and administration, and the Democrats continue to fail to deal with the $650 million shortfall they created on the Connelly/Bulova watch, they will have problems in Fairfax County.

3. Did the narrow Democratic win in the Alexandria House election impact the Fairfax special election?  Should the GOP have contested the Brian Moran seat?  Probably and Yes.  The Moran special was the canary in the coal mine, but you don’t build a party by letting seats go uncontested. 

4. The real bright side to the special election?  The Bulova win showed that the GOP can be competitive in Fairfax.  Remember, it is not necessary at present for the GOP to win NoVA, just not to get shellacked there.  The special also showed how the GOP can do when the focus is not on social issues, which may help focus the future of the party.  IN addition, the race helped create a record that Bulova will have to defend in 2011.  Bulova addressed the $650 million shortfall with glittering generalities, which she could well do in a special election.  But come 2011, she and the Democratic board had best have some answers and made progress, or else it will be difficult for voters to think they are the ones to leave in power. 

Those are my thoughts…now back to Braddock District, where we will have a special election for Supervisor next month, and potentially another in, oh…late April?  We shall see!


4 thoughts on “Let Me Set Things Straight: Post Special Election 2009

  1. I really liked your article but i wish you explained your connection to the pyramid a little better. which specific rings on the heirarchy is the GOP target and how do politicians cater to the higher rungs?If you’re suggesting the GOP cater to the lower rungs, then who caters to the higher rungs, in contrast, because you’re suggesting a contrast.

  2. OK, let me give it a shot…

    I guess I view all of this like building a house. You cannot do interior decorating until the roof is up;you can’t put up the roof until the frame is built; you cannot build the frame until the foundation is poured; you cannot pour the foundation until the footers are dug.

    The GOP is like a general contractor who is telling folks how he is going to decorate while not worrying about digging the footers and pouring the foundation.

    Basic needs-food, shelter. Next-safety. The prosperity of the nineties and early 2000’s meant that folks folks were generally not as worried about these items, so the GOP could focus on issues that were of less uniform concern but opon which they could mobilize voters. These tended toward the mid and upper levels of the pyramid.

    These are issues you can “cater” to…and on which folks will have a difference of opinion. It turns into a matter of framing the issue in a way to get folks to respond.

    By 2001, things began to change. With the War on Terrorism, the GOP still held the majority and held the White House until voters began to think maybe they didn’t have a as good a handle on defense as was thought. The economic spins and drops of the last two years in general and the last six months in particular meant people are not getting raises, losing jobs, losing homes.

    Food and shelter and fear of losing same are not issues on which you can cater, you have to engage. The GOP failed to do so.

    I submit that a Pro-Life, Pro NRA, out of a job factory worker is going to vote for the folks he thinks are best able to get him or her back to work even if he/she disagrees with them on abortion or gun rights issues.

    This is the GOP problem. The GOP has not articulated a vision for where they want to lead the country, and how that vision and that path will address basic needs across the country. Instead, they talk about social issues.

    Social issues of all types can only gain tractions and impact elections when people feel safe, feel content, and see their basic needs are taken care of. When folks do not have, or are uncertain in the ability to feed and shelter their families (basic needs low end of the pyramid) they are not as concerned about military issues (next level up) and could care less about social issues (higher tiers).

    The GOP need to run on issues that address the lower levels of the pyramid and not the higher…the lower levels have the widest unanimity of need.

    If the GOP keeps on worrying about the interior decoration instead of focusing on the footers and the foundation, they will conitinue to be less than successful on election day.

  3. Pingback: When Do Retreads Lose Their Gripping Power? « Renaissance Ruminations

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