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All Eyes on Alabama

The Republican candidate somehow lost a special senatorial election on Tuesday, in Alabama of all places, vyr as we see it our once Grand Old Party probably dodged a bullet.
At first glance, of course, it’s a unmitigated disaster for the Republicans. Although he party had won several special congressional elections in reliably Republican states to replace the popular Republicans who had joined the administration of President Donald Trump, they were all by embarrassingly close margins, and the party got blown-out by bigger than usual margins a in off year elections in couple of reliably Democratic states, so losing a Senate race in such an especially reliably Republican state as Alabama does not bode well for future camapigns. The loss also pares the Republican majority in Senate down to a mere 51 votes, and given Trump’s ongoing wars of words with far more than two Republican senators that’s going to make it even harder for him to get his legislative agenda passed.
There’s been no looking away from this Southern Gothic novel of an election, though, and on second and third glance it always looked to us that the Republicans could only win by losing. The Republican nominee was Roy Moore, who was already a controversial figure even in Alabama even before several small-town and Republican-voting women stepped forward to quite credibly accuse him of inappropriate sexual behavior behavior toward them when he was a 30-something prosecutor and they were in there early- to mid-teens. His denials of the allegations on such friendly media as Fox New’s “Sean Hannity Show” were entirely unconvincing, and in the final days of the campaign he doubled down on all the things that had made him controversial even in Alabama even before those allegations surfaced.
Moore was always a theocratic figure that our old=fashioned Republican and Christian couldn’t quite stand, n the finals days of the campaign there was some old audio footage of Moore saying that America was last great back when human slavery was still tolerated, because at least families we’re still together back then, even if black families were routinely torn apart by the sale of their progeny to distant states. There was also tape of Moore grousing that every single constitutional amendment after those first ten in the Bill of Rights was a horrible mistake, even though they include the 13th amendment that abolished slavery and the 14th amendment that recognized the full civic rights of all citizens including those former slaves, and the 19th amendment that granted women the right to vote. On election eve Moore’s wife refuted allegations of anti-semitism by noting that “We have a jew lawyer,” which one late night comic likened to saying that “we’re not anti-black because we’re always glad to have them on their basketball team.”
We doubt that the Jewish vote very much influenced Moore’s loss in Alabama, but it’s clear it can be largely attributed to a higher-than-expected turnout by black voters and lower-than-expected support from Republican women, and if that was enough to cause an upset in such a state as Alabama it does not bode well for Republican prospects in the upcoming elections elsewhere. Trump and the rest of his slightly more reluctant Republican party seem intent seem intent on doubling down on such divisive rhetoric, no matter how badly it’s provably polling at the moment even in such a reliably Republican state as Alabama.
Which is why we figure the Republicans won by losing. If Moore had won the race he would have surely faced several weeks of headline-grabbing hearings about his fitness for office, with all his formerly-teenaged accusers on nationally-aired videotape giving their sworn testimony to a congressional committee’s investigation of the matter, all while the Republican president was “tweeting” nonsense about it during the renewed talk about all the credible accusations of his own sexual misbehavior. Our Republican party will still have to endure will still have endure have to endure the public’s current intolerance of sexual misbehavior and outright craziness by either party, but at least it won’t have to make many convoluted excuses for the likes of Moore.
The Democratic victor is Doug Jones, who is a bit too enthusiastic about abortion right up to moment of birth for our tastes, along with most Alabama voters, but on gun rights and law and order immigration and the rest of it he doesn’t seem likely to do much damage in the couple of of years he has replacing now Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the job. Sessions is now frequently criticized by Trump for recusing himself from that “Russia thing” and senior Alabama Sen. ichard Shelby had already announced that he cast his vote for a write-in Republican candidate other than Moore, as we would have done, and we agree that a Moore victory would have proved worse.
Trump is still stuck with his full-throated endorsement of Moore, and his  increasingly implausible insistence that all the credible accusations of sexual misbehavior are fake news, but thanks to higher-than-expected black turnout and a decisive number of Republican Alabama women the GOP won’t have to spend the next weeks of news cycles defending a Senator who’s pro-slavery and anti-women’s suffrage and stands credibly accused of hitting on teenaged girls when he was a 30-something prosecutor. Defending Trump’s bragged-about-on-tape sexual misbehavior is hard enough, especially when the Democrats are willing to toss out party members accused of less, so even Trump should hope that Moore is soon forgotten.

— Bud Norman

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Moore Is Less in Alabama

Alabama’s special Senatorial election was already crazy enough, but it got even crazier on Thursday with a Washington Post report that Republican nominee Roy Moore is accused of molesting  a 14-year-old girl when he was a 32-year-old prosecutor and pursuing relationships with three other girls aged 15 and 16 around the same time. Given that Moore is running on his long-cultivated reputation as a champion of Christian values, it’s especially incendiary stuff.
Moore unequivocally denies the allegations, and is as entitled to a presumption of innocence as any citizen, but the four now middle-aged women who are publicly making the charges are just as entitled to the benefit of the doubt, and the rules that prevail in the court of public are very different from the ones imposed in a court of law. Most of the callers to the talk radio shows and the commenters on the conservative web sites seem to have instinctively reached their verdicts immediately upon hearing the widely-disseminated news, the late night comics and all but one of the cable news channels and everyone of the leftward side of media did the same, and as if it weren’t crazy enough America’s politics went crazier yet.
If you haven’t been following this classic Southern Gothic novel from the beginning, the Alabama special Senatorial election has been weird from the get-go. In the first place they’re holding an election in December on an odd-numbered year because longtime Sen. Jeff Sessions had vacated his seat to become President Donald Trump’s Attorney General, which has since spun into too many fascinating sub-plots in the broader political reality show to recount here. Sessions was temporarily replaced by a fellow named Luther Strange, who as appointed to the position by Republican Gov. Robert Bentley, who a short time later was forced to resign after pleading guilty to lying about an extramarital affair.
Alabama Republicans were appalled by Bentley’s betrayal of his wife and the Christian values he had campaigned on, so of course they held it against Strange. Strange voted consistently with the Republican caucus, just as Sessions had done, but he won the endorsement of the Senate majority, so Alabama Republicans further resented him for being an establishment sell-out. A crowded field of primary challengers included an unabashed low-tax and lean-government conservative named Mo Brooks that all the talk radio show hosts and what’s left of the “tea party” loved, but Trump disappointed them all by endorsing Strange, and then Trump disappointed Strange when his big rally speech turned out to be all about Trump with a few tepid mentions thrown in, and a solid plurality of Alabama Republicans wound choosing Moore and his full-throated and defiant campaign for Christian values.
Moore was once removed from Alabama’s Supreme Court for defying a federal court order to move a Ten Commandments monument he’d installed on public grounds, and a second time for defying the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriages, and the Republicans in the state largely loved him for that. Moore is also on the record that homosexuality should be illegal, and he’s never ruled out the possibility of the death penalty, and he’s by far the most out-the-closet theocrat we can ever recall being a likely Senator of the United States, but most Alabama Republicans seem comfortable with that as well. He was also found to have been taking a sizable salary and other filthily lucrative benefits from the Foundation for Moral Law that he’d claimed to have been selflessly serving without compensation, but his poll numbers survived that.
Allegations of 32-year-old prosecutor molesting a 14-year-old girl are surely another matter for any God-fearing Alabama Republican, but so far most of them seem to be sticking to their man. They don’t believe anything they might from hear from what all the talk radio shows call “The Washington Compost,” even if the socialist rag does have four named women on the record and another named woman and some 20 other unnamed women who will verify that their accounts match what they were told by the accusers at the time, because they do believe that all sorts of nefarious folks are out to get such God-fearing Republicans as Moore and themselves,
That’s not entirely untrue, of course and alas, but from our seat on the bench in the pox-on-both-their-houses sidelines of today’s politics there’s something about the Washington Post’s accounts that rings true. Far too many of the paper’s “fake news” stories have been later verified by sworn testimony and other incontrovertible evidence to summarily dismiss its reports, and the one about Moore strikes our veteran eyes as especially well-sourced. The story about Moore later luring the 14-year-old to his rural home and removing her outer clothing begins with him approaching the girl and her mother outside a domestic court room where the mother was about to testify in a divorce hearing, then offering to keep watch out for the girl rather than have her hear the likely hurtful testimony, and the paper has the documentation of the event and the fact that Moore was a 32-year-old prosecutor working in the building at the time.
Pretty much everything that can be corroborated about the other three women’s accounts of Moore’s advances also checks out, including the more than two dozen women who vividly recall hearing same story all those years ago, but there’s no way to corroborate what can’t be checked and Moore is denying it all and is entitled as any other citizen to a presumption of innocence in a court of law. In the court of public opinion we’re all entitled to reach our own conclusions about anyone’s character, and so far a lot of Republicans are sticking with their man and sticking it to any Republicans who might have doubts about it.
So far we’re hearing from the talk radio callers and the internet commentators that The Washington Compost probably made these women up, and that if even if they do exist they’re probably some hairy-legged feminists out to get Trump and Moore and other God-fearing Republicans such as themselves, but by now countless media have confirmed these women’s existence and at least three of these seemingly very typical Alabama girls are telling them they’re still supporters of Trump. Some God-fearing Alabama Republicans and self-described conservatives elsewhere are already taking the fallback position that it was a long time ago and nobody’s alleging that anybody went all the way and that the 16-year-old was at least at the age of consent in Alabama, and some have even reached for absurd Biblical excuses. Unless you fully believe Moore’s categorical denial the alleged behavior, and are willing to categorically dismiss the claims four of middle-aged Alabama women who are staking their reputation among the Alabama Republicans they live with and love, and have no apparent reason to risk those reputations on a lie, any other excuse will will be hard to square with Moore’s image as a champion of Christian values.
As much as we believe in the Ten Commandments on a spiritual level, and as much as we despise that Supreme Court decision about same-sex marriage on strict constitutionalist grounds, we always found Moore’s defiant stand on both issues more self-aggrandizing than self-sacrificng. We have Old Testament beliefs about sexual morality but New Testament notions about hating the sing but loving the sinner and it’s brought an abundance of homosexual friends, so we also never went along with that “lock ’em up” stuff can’t imagine anyone throwing the first stone. Something about the guy reminded of of the scripture’s warnings about “the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others,” and the other parts about rendering unto Caesar and obeying civil authorities, and given that Jesus Himself assured Pilate that He had not come to establish His kingdom on Earth we found Moore’s claims that he could pull it off to be a bit both blow-hardy and blasphemous.
What’s left of Alabama’s Democratic Party went and nominated itself a white guy who’s got the career resume you’d expect of Senate candidate and is clean-cut and never claimed to a champion of Christian values even if you did come up with some long-ago dirt on him, but he’s also an abortion rights absolutist right up to the minutes before birth. This is yet another matter for a God-fearing Alabama Republican, and since none of the sex acts that Moore stands accused of were potentially procreative that might carry him to the Senate. At this point there’s little chance of replacing Moore as the Republican nominee on the ballot, and even if he bowed out of the chances of winning a write-in campaign for the hated Strange or the third-place challenger Brooks or any Republican alternative would be iffy even in Alabama.
If the Republicans do win in Alabama it could it hurt it chances elsewhere. Ever since the Reagan days Democrats have run scare ads about the Christian right imposing a theocracy that stones homosexuals and denies abortion even in life-of-the-mother situations, and for the first time they’ll have an elected Republican Senator to make it sound undeniably plausible. Several high-ranking congressional suggested that Moore should pull out of the race if the allegations were true, and within minutes the talk show lines and internet message boards were lit up about the damned establishment bailing betraying the one true faith once again, which seems to suggest that much of the Republican party doesn’t much care even if the allegations are true.
We’re giving those four former Alabama girls who are now middle-aged Alabama women the benefit of the doubt, even as we presume Moore’s innocence, and will leave the rest of to all those Alabama Republicans and Democrats to sort it all out. We don’t see it ending well, though, for Alabamans or any of the rest of us.
— Bud Norman

Things Get Moore Strange in Alabama

There’s an awful lot going on in the world these days, with another round of hurricanes in the Caribbean and a second big earthquake in Mexico and the escalating war of schoolyard taunts on the now nucqearized Korean Peninsula and all those recent “Russia” revelations, but we can’t keep our eye off that special election t coming up next Tuesday in Alabama. President Donald Trump is scheduled to be in the state today to campaign for his preferred candidate, which suggests the matter also commands his attention despite everything else going on in the world these days, and of course his involvement makes the whole thing even harder to figure.
In case you don’t usually follow Alabama politics, as we usually don’t, the state is finally getting around to picking a successor to Sen. Jeff Sessions, who resigned his seat to become Trump’s Attorney General. Sessions seems to have been Attorney General forever by now, and we’re sure it seems even longer than that to him, but they take their time about doing things down south, and the Republicans are just now getting around to choosing their candidate for a general election that will occur somewhere down the road and  whichever Republican will surely win. One reason for the delay is that the Republicans had to hold an open-first primary to select the two run-off candidates, and given the nature of Alabama politics and the Republican party as a whole and the further complications of Trump’s intervention that was hard not to watch.
In the primary there were three credible and intriguing candidates. One was Rep. Mo Brooks, a one of those hard-line conservatives who voted against anything that wasn’t hard-line conservative enough no matter what the rest of the Republican caucus was going along with, and he was favored by all the talk radio hosts and the nationalist and populist Steve Bannon wing of the White House. Another was former state Supreme Court Judge Ray Moore, best known for twice being removed the bench for refusing to comply with Supreme Court rulings regarding public displays of the Ten Commandments and same-sex marriage, who was enthusiastically supported by the same evangelical voters who supported Trump. There was also the former state Attorney General Luther Strange, who had been warming Session’s seat as a temporary replacement and was a chosen son of the much-reviled-by-talk-show-listeners and Trump and most other Republicans Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, but for reasons no one can explain Trump also endorsed Strange.
As confusing as it must have been to the average Republican Alabamian, where he’s statistically likely to be a big fan of Trump, the open primary somehow ended with with Moore and Strange in the run-off. As popular as Trump is in the state, though, the talk-show-backed Brooks immediately endorsed Moore right after his near defeat, the more defiant sorts of evangelical voters have stayed loyal, and the president flies into the state in support of a candidate who’s far behind in all the polls. That’s Trump’s base resisting Strange, too, which is a noteworthy development in the ongoing war within the Republican party.
At this point it’s hard to see it working out well for the Grand Old Party in any possible case.
If Moore wins the Republicans will at long last be saddled with a Senator who actually closely resembles the Democrats’ caricature of the party’s extremist religious zealotry. Moore has reassured Alabama’s voters that he’s not in favor of executing homosexuals, but other than that he hasn’t gone out of his way to allay any secular fears about his religious fervor.. We’d like to think we’re as evangelical and Republican as the next guy, and we share Moore’s concerns that God is being banished from the public square, and we try our best to adhere to those ten commandments that Moore defiantly erected on public grounds, but we also note the New Testament scripture about rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and obeying civil authorities, and that part about “come let us reason together,” so the mixed martial arts afficionado Moore strikes us as suspiciously prideful for a prophet.
If Strange wins so does McConnell and the rest of the Republican establishment, which is by now hated by the entirety of the Democratic party and most of the independents and pretty much all the Republicans except for a few old Never-Trumper types such as ourselves, even Trump is today campaigning on behalf of Strange. Strange would likely end up on the repeal and replacement of the debate about Obamacare Trump now favors, and might help out on other issues, but given his establishment credentials he’s bound to cross paths with Trump at some point, and we don’t see him as the unifying figure the party needs right now.
If Brooks had somehow survived the open primary that probably wouldn’t have helped, either. He might have wound up sinking the last ditch attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare because it didn’t repeal and replace it enough, and although he’d have had a good enough case that Strange or Moore couldn’t refute it would have still been scored another loss for both the party and its president. Brooks’ enthusiastic endorsement of Moore, along with all the polls, suggests that Alabama Republicans prefer the ten commandments to Trump, which seems about right to us, but it’s still hard to see this ending well for anybody. From our far away from Alabama perspective we’re hoping for Strange, as weird as it feels, and we’re still hoping that in any case Moore won’t be all that bad.

— Bud Norman

The Health Care Fight Turns Literal

President Donald Trump’s extended foreign tour went smoothly on Wednesday, but back in the states his party’s efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare had a bumpier ride. The Congressional Budget Office issued a report that the bill recently passed by the House of Representatives would result in 23 million fewer Americans having health insurance, a Fox News poll confirmed all the other polls showing that the bill was already unpopular with the public, and the Republican candidate in today’s special congressional election in Montana apparently wound up taking his frustrations out by body-slamming a reporter.
The body-slamming got the most media attention, of course, but even those stories required some mention of the CBO score and the bad polls to provide the context. Although the state-wide district has been an easy win for the Republican the past 20 years, this is not at all a usual year and the race has been close enough to draw reporters from all sorts of places in anticipation of an upset with national implications. Democratic candidate Ron Quist, a 69-year-old singing cowboy with a troubled financial history he attributes to some pesky health expenses, has lately tightened the race by stressing his opposition to that unpopular House bill. Republican candidate Greg Gianforte, a New Jersey transplant who got rich with a software company, has been steadfastly opposed to the unpopular Obamacare law but noticeably less steadfast about where he stands on that even more unpopular House bill.
Which helps some to explain what happened when a reporter from the unabashedly-liberal-even-by-British-standards The Guardian newspaper walked to up to Gianforte wielding a tape recorder microphone and asking about that brand new CBO score. At that point, so far as we can tell from the reporter’s audio recording and the eyewitness testimony of several other journalists and Gianforte’s own self-serving account, Gianforte declined to answer, the reporter persisted, Pianoforte continued to declined, the reporter continued to persist. After a few moments of this, it seems, Gianforte grabbed the reporter’s neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground, then began punching.
On the audio recording Gianforte is clearly heard at that point shouting “I’m sick and tired of you guys. The last guy that came in here did the same thing. Get the hell out of here. Get the hell out of here. The last guy did the same thing. Are you with The Guardian?” The reporter admitted he was from The Guardian and complained that his glasses had been broken, Gianforte reiterated his demand that he get out, and the reporter stated his intention to call the local police. As a criminal matter it’s now in the hands of the local authorities, so we’ll not comment on that, but as a political matter we will say that it’s not the kind of publicity a candidate hopes for on election eve in a tight race.
In a state that is red on both the electoral map and the back of the neck it might be worth trying to blame it all on that liberal media, especially when it’s some pesky Brit from a left-by-British-standards rag such as The Guardian, but in this case the eyewitnesses to the events were a crew from Fox News, which is not known for its liberal bias, and confirmed every detail of the reporter and his audiotape’s account what happened. There are bound to be a few Republicans in Montana who will relish a smart-alecky reporter from that far back east getting his rightful comeuppance, but there are bound to be even more Montana Republicans who are embarrassed by it.
Montana’s a reliably red state, though, and this might yet prove another tantalizingly close call for the Democrats in this unusual year. They do things different up in Montana, such as holding special elections on a Thursday, instead of Tuesday as God intended, and given the long rides into town that most Montanans have there are some unusually lenient early voting laws. An estimated 62 percent of the votes that will be cast in a typically low-turnout special election have already been made, before that CBO score or Pianoforte’s alleged body slammed hit the news, and unless they’re paying attention to their local news or the international internet buzz the rest might go to the polls without having heard about it. Some of those who do might decide to reluctantly vote for Gianforte anyway, and they’ve probably been following the race closer than we have.
Even if the Republicans eke out another unusually close win in a reliably red district, though, they should remain calmly nervous. They won the special election here in our Kansas Fourth District by seven points, but that’s a jarring drop from the customary 30-point-plus blowouts of recent decades, and at this point the really big special election this June in that mostly-white-and-educated-and-upper-income Georgia district in suburban Atlanta that used to elect Newt Gingrich the Democrat is ahead in all the polls on his anti-hour bill platform. Given that all these districts went Republican by comfortable margins just last November, Republicans must ask themselves what’s happened since then.
The special election in Kansas was held because Rep. Mike Pompeo was tabbed as Central Intelligence Agency director, in Montana it was because Rep. Ryan Zinke was promoted to Secretary of Interior, and that Georgia seat’s open because Rep. Tom Price was promoted to Secretary of Health and Human Services, so in each case the Grand Old Party was running candidates with lesser credentials. All politics really is local, too, and we’ll freely admit we’re not au courant on what’s going on in rural Montana and suburban Atlanta. Still, the trend seems to be that the Democrats hate Trump more than the Republicans love him, and that the repeal-and-replace bill the House passed is even more unpopular than Obamacare, which takes some doing.
Obamacare is still as bad as people thought it was just last November, though, and there’s a strong case to be made for that House bill, but for now the Republican party seems unlikely to make it. Both the bill and the president’s widely damned proposed budget cut to Medicare and other governments are necessary to forestall the bankruptcy of those programs, which will prove far more painful, but until then that’s a hard argument to make. On the campaign trail Trump promised coverage for everyone at government expense, then promised that it would all be cheaper and better for everyone and that he’d never touch Medicare, and he rebuked the Republicans in the House who only promised to do what had to be done, so it will be interesting to see what he has to say about it when he gets home from that foreign trip.
He’ll no doubt bash the press, which usually plays well with that plurality of his supporters, but we’d advise him not to do it literally. In a race with national implications, that doesn’t play well.

— Bud Norman

A Relatively Close Call on the Plains

That wasn’t a windstorm that blew through Kansas on Tuesday night to blow away all the smoke from that controlled prairie burn, but rather a collective sigh of relief by the state’s Republican Party. The Fourth Congressional District remains in the loving hands of the GOP, despite a confluence of circumstances that made it harder than usual.
State Treasurer Ron Estes wound up beating attorney and political neophyte James Thompson in the special election to replace Mike Pompeo, who left his seat to become director of the Central Intelligence Agency, albeit by less than seven percentage points. That might seem a comfortable margin in some districts, but it’s a 25-point drop from Pompeo’s victory last November, and it took a big chunk of last minute media money from the national party and a visit by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and robocalls from the President and Vice-President to salvage that. It’s close enough by Kansas standards to give Democrats some hope in more traditionally competitive districts, and inspire a similar nervousness among the Republicans.
Neither party should read to much into it, though, as there were the predictable all-politics-is-local factors that likely won’t be replicated elsewhere. Kansas’ Republican Gov. Sam Brownback is currently the least popular governor in the country, being hated with a red-hot passion by all the Democrats and having spent the past six waging a civil war on the more pragmatic sorts of budget-balancing Republicans who are still quite numerous around here, and for some reason party poo-bahs in the district chose a candidate from his cabinet. Special elections are typically low-turnout affairs every, so when it happens where a highly energized Democratic base and Republican base that isn’t at all enthused by its candidate and no longer frightened by the prospect of President Hillary Clinton or Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is bound to tighten a race.
Estes lacked Pompeo’s stellar credentials and polished appeal and ran an awful campaign, forgoing the usual retail campaigning and skipping debates and constantly running a much-ridiculed ad where he’s wearing waders and standing in a swamp full of alligators and snakes and a harmless-looking turtle. The opponent ran an unusually shrewd campaign, using plenty of shoe-leather at all the obligatory greasy spoon meet-and-greets and showing up at every debate, and his ads took care to mention his military record and show him firing off rounds the very same “assault rifle” that the last Democratic congressman we had here a few decades had foolhardily voted to ban, and for a Democrat a projected a very regular Kansas guy image, and although his party establishment proved stingy he still fired up the base enough to get sufficient small donations to blanket the local airwaves and internet connections with it. Republicans can hope that future candidates won’t repeat the same mistakes elsewhere, and be confident that few Democrats will allow themselves to be seen firing semi-automatic weapons.
Certain sorts of Republicans will tell themselves that President Donald Trump’s last minute intervention turned the tide from what was rumored to be a late polling deficit before that last minute money-infusion, and all sorts of Democrats will be hoping that Trump was largely responsible for that 25 point drop from a mere four years ago, but they’re both only partly right, and the way it played out here doesn’t predict anything about any other race around the country. Trump carried the district by 27 points, but that’s five less than Pompeo’s winning margin and no better than what any old Republican presidential nominee could expect, and he finished a distant third to Cruz in the caucus voting, so absent that terrifying prospect of a President Hillary Clinton there’s not much enthusiasm for him around here. He does have his fans, though, many of them the types who wouldn’t ordinarily be voting in a low-turnout special election if not for a presidential robocall, and the more pragmatic Republicans types who always vote even in April aren’t going to let Trump’s endorsement change their vote one way or the other. We don’t think that Democrats can expect a 25 point drop in any other district due to Trump, as it probably didn’t happen here, but we will allow that there was a certain Trump-related enthusiasm gap here that Trump and the lack of a Hillary Clinton-esque villain had something to do with it.
Any Democrats searching for nuggets of hope from the race should dig deep into the district’s peculiar demographics, and take note that Thompson did wind up winning Sedgwick County, which includes the 50th most populous American metropolitan area of Wichita and most of the district’s voters. He didn’t win it by nearly enough to offset the ass-kicking he predictably suffered in the sparsely populated agricultural counties to the east and west and south, but even a slight edge here should offer encouragement to discouraged Democrats. In a regular election year Wichita’s a reliably Republican city, certainly more so than your usual top-50 American metro area, but pretty much every single ethnic minority and homosexual and college professor and beatnik poet and dues-paying union member and every other statistically-inclined-to-vote-Democrat sort of individual in the district lives here, and as the pundits say it “looks like America” more than the rest of the district, for better and worse. The city’s ethnic make-up and levels of educational achievement and annual income and television viewing habits and consumers preferences are so close to all the national averages that it’s a popular test market, which oddly puts our unfashionable hometown on the cutting edge of commerce, so even in a special election even a slight Democratic win here is something both parties should ponder.
The Democrats should consider finding candidates who shoot guns and act like regular guys and take care not to give offense to the God-fearing white folks when they’re out shaking hands at greasy spoons, even as they fire up all the ethnic minorities and homosexuals and college professors in the base, but they’ll probably go full Bernie Sanders. The local Republicans should remember that just four months ago they easily won Wichita and a whole lot of those ethnic minorities and homosexuals and college professors and dues-paying union members with such as a well-credentialed and polished and uninvolved in the Republican civil war candidate as Pompeo, but they’ll probably conclude that even in a special election beset by the worst complications they can still win by a nearly seven point margin no matter who they put up, and of course Trump will conclude that he saved the day.
We got some free eats at both the Estes party at the Marriott Hotel way over the east side as well as the Thompson party at an old joint just up from The Lord’s Diner on North Broadway, and it was interesting to note how both parties were pretty much exactly as you might stereotype them, and how both were rather ambivalent about the results, but we can’t say we learned anything. Come to think of it, we do’t suggest either party try to draw any conclusions except that nobody seems very happy here in the demographically representative heart of America, and they both need to do better.

— Bud Norman

The Least Bad Choice

Sometimes life offers only bad choices. Such was the case in Tuesday’s special election for South Carolina’s first congressional district, where the ballot offered voters a choice of Elizabeth Colbert Busch or Mark Sanford.
The district has been reliably Republican for decades, and went for Romney by 18 points in the past presidential election, but Democrats around the country were nonetheless hopeful about their chances. Such optimism was based in part on the assumed appeal of Democratic nominee Busch, a university administrator and political neophyte with a semi-famous brother, but mostly on a widespread distaste for Republican nominee Sanford, a former governor who resigned in disgrace following the disclosure of an extra-marital affair.
Other politicians have recovered from similar shenanigans, but they were Democrats and they weren’t running in a southern Republican district. Sanford’s scandal had also included official lies about his whereabouts during one liaison with his Argentine mistress, campaign money spent on a cover-up, a seeming lack of contrition, and a widely popular wife. Although Sanford used all the right religious language about repentance and redemption, he has continued the relationship with the other woman and during the campaign he was accused by his still-angry ex-wife of violating a court order by making an unapproved visit to her home. Democrats had reason to believe that Sanford could be beaten for the first time in his career.
Their faith in Busch, on the other hand, was probably misplaced all along. Her complete lack of political experience was expected to provide a refreshing contrast to the tainted career politician, but it resulted in an ineffective strategy of dodging interviews with the press, refusing to take clear stands on such important issues as the repeal of Obamacare, and amateurish stump campaigning. Being the brother of sneering cable television comic Stephen Colbert was supposed to provide a South Carolina sort of glamour and bring in national fund-raising, but it also seems to have raised suspicions that her vaguely-stated politics were secretly as sneeringly left-wing as her more famous sibling’s. Her own arrest record from her own failed marriage many years ago was politely ignored by much of the state’s media, but word seems to have gotten out enough to do some damage.
As it turned out, Sanford won again and it wasn’t very close. The most likely explanation is that voters figured they had two bad choices so they might as well go with the one who was most loudly promising to restrain federal spending. With the only other options being a Green Party candidate who was presumably to the left of Busch or not voting at all, it seems that the voters of South Carolina’s first congressional district did the best with what they had.

— Bud Norman