Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Well, I told you this about New York's 9th Congressional District, where Republican Bob Turner took Anthony Weiner's old seat in a special election yesterday, and now The Hill confirms it (emphasis added):

The district's population, which besides the Orthodox Jewish community contains many Catholics of Irish and Italian descent as well as large populations of Hispanics and Asians, has trended away from the Democratic Party since Sept. 11, 2001, although Weiner had done well there up until his resignation in June. Al Gore won the district with 67 percent of the vote in 2000, but Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) won just 56 percent there in 2004. It had the largest shift towards the GOP from 2000 to 2008 of any district outside of the South.

These are the outer boroughs, where the residents have a sense of distance from the people who run the world that's as palpable as it must be in parts of Mississippi and Alabama where they love Jesus and Fox News. As I told you, this district has the fourth-largest Jewish population of any congressional district in America (PDF); my district, on Manhattan's Upper West Side, is #2 on that list -- but we keep reelecting Congressman Jerrold Nadler, who (unlike Weiner) isn't a Middle East hawk (Nadler, among other things, opposed the Iraq War from the start, unlike Weiner). Those are acceptable positions here because this is a very different district -- white-collar, plugged in to all the industries you associate with Manhattan, and thus plugged into the larger world and the people who run it. NY-9 is far less connected, and thus much warier, in the way that a lot of blue-collar districts became wary, and thus easy to win over with targeted demagoguery, in the "Reagan Democrat" years; see also Hillary Clinton's Heartland Boilermaker Tour '08.

And I see from The New York Times that Turner celebrated his victory at a restaurant in the Queens neighborhood of Howard Beach. You may know that as the site of a much-discussed racial attack in 1986. It's also right near Kennedy Airport. I've been out there and you can barely have a conversation outdoors without hearing planes taking off and landing -- which makes it just like East Boston, where I grew up. It was the kind of neighborhood where most people hated school busing in the '70s but regularly voted for Ted Kennedy. You figure it out.


I'm not saying the loss is all the result of demographics or well-deployed demagoguery -- obviously the economy has a major impact.

On the other hand, mistermix thinks it's a general problem with special elections:

Special elections are nothing but risk and pain for the incumbent party. The office holder usually resigned for some ugly reason that splatters onto the incumbent party's candidate, the incumbent party is often a sclerotic and shortsighted enough to nominate a weak machine favorite who hasn't ever participated in a contested election, tons of money is spent stupidly in a short period of time, and the national media makes the election into a referendum on some national issue that may have no bearing on the district's politics. The campaign calendar is compressed, so a candidate who's slow getting on his feet is doomed. In short, they're a shitstorm that should be avoided whenever possible.

But my question is: Why does a blogger understand this, and why don't the people who run one of our two major political parties understand it? Why, after Scott Brown, and with unemployment over 9%, were Democrats apparently not even considering the possibility that this could go bad? I'm not talking about running the race from the beginning as if Weprin was an underdog -- I mean being on alert for signs of trouble and reacting swiftly and effectively to those signs. It's the same question I have about the White House and the health care battle (and every other battle with the GOP) -- why is it so difficult to see trouble coming and activate the fight-or-flight response? Isn't that a big part of what's killing the Democrats?