The Voters Are Just Not That Into Us
I ended the year by looking back at the column that ran last year at this time and revisiting one of the two predictions. (The other was wondering how people who kept saying that Gov. Napolitano was beatable because her re-elect number was just above 50 percent were the same folks saying that Sen. Kyl, with a lower number, would roll over Jim Pederson.) Kyl did win by just under 10 points, but Napolitano won by just over 27 points. And the fun part is that she carried every county, so according to Arizona law, for the next 4 years, the Democratic candidate will be listed first on every general election ballot, in every county. How long do you think it'll take for the GOP-controlled legislature to try to change that?
Notice the bonus Sex in the City reference?
WHICH MATTERS MORE, ISSUES OR CANDIDATES? NEITHER
East Valley Tribune, Dec. 31, 2006
A year ago, I wondered whether in 2006 initiatives would drive the election results. Examples from other states weren’t favorable. Florida voters overwhelmingly approved a minimum wage increase in 2004, while Gov. Jeb Bush -- who opposed the initiative strongly, fearing its impact on his race -- cruised to reelection.
In late 2005, groups seeking a California constitutional initiative banning gay marriage announced they weren’t getting the needed signatures. They missed the deadline for putting the issue on the June primary ballot, which at the time might have seemed like good news. That was election where Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger lost all five of his high-profile ballot initiatives -- badly.
Schwarzenegger then immediately started compromising promiscuously with the Democratic-controlled state assembly, signing on to all sorts of new initiatives. Arnold then won reelection easily, having stolen the Democratic candidate’s thunder on global warming, education, and health care. Meanwhile, the California gay marriage vote never happened.
Despite these inauspicious portents, state Republicans still hoped to frame the 2006 election around their initiative and referendum proposals. The legislature sent a slew of issues to the ballot, ranging from making English the state’s official language to blocking illegal aliens from recovering punitive damages in lawsuits. The GOP hoped these ballot propositions would rouse the GOP base and force Democrats to debate GOP wedge issues instead of their own.
Well, it didn’t work. A slew of anti-immigrant initiatives passed easily, but candidates with the more restrictive immigration profile were defeated. In an even bigger surprise, Arizona voters defeated the gay-marriage-and-domestic-partnership ban, too. Either all these wedge issues were counterbalanced by the initiative to create a higher state minimum wage (not likely), or else if your party is losing a war and your majority in Congress is doing everything it can to come up with new and newsworthy ways of demonstrating their financial and moral corruption, then many itty bitty state initiatives won’t help that much.
Or maybe Democrats should thank not just Iraq and Mark Foley, but also Sen. Jon Kyl. In their post-election post-mortems, state GOP leaders noted that they were "substantially" outspent by the Democrats, in part due to Kyl’s fundraising.
State GOP national committeeman Randy Pullen told the Associated Press that his party’s efforts in state legislative races were hampered by Kyl scooping up available GOP dollars to fight off Jim Pederson’s contributions to his own campaign.
It’s an interesting theory. You’ve probably heard, multiple times, about the $10 million Pederson spent of his own money in his Senate race, but almost every time without any mention of how much Kyl spent, as if the incumbent’s ads appeared on TV all those times merely by magic and guile.
It’s true that Kyl didn’t spend any of his own money on his campaign; instead, it was entirely other people’s money -- $15 million worth, money that wasn’t available for other Republican candidates.
So when it comes to initiatives’ impact on candidates, the Iraq-Foley-Kyl Corollary applies: A bad war, a bad Congress, and an incumbent raising $15 million means a shotgun blast of wedge-issue initiatives won’t make it a Republican year.
My own theory, however, is depressing for Arizona politicians, because it’s not about us, instead it’s about the national mood. We’re a state of newcomers; still over half the population, well over half the registered voters, and even more of the actual voters all moved here from somewhere else, meaning that something else was more important to us than existing social and community ties. Consequentially, we’re just less "into" politics than elsewhere.
Our electorate lacks deep roots; so many people don’t know what happened here five years ago that candidates can’t care about it, either.
With no history, we have no historical or political inertia, so whatever’s happening nationally matters far more than any local issues or personalities. It’s the first rule of Arizona politics: It’s not about you. Democrats got handed a good year nationally, and that made it a good year in Arizona, too.
And if President Bush (and Sen. John McCain) do escalate the war in Iraq, I bet 2008 will be a good year, too.