In the U.S., it’s never over; next election in 723 days

Tom West, West Words

Never argue with the voters. They’re all we’ve got.

That’s my advice to everyone who was upset by the results of the election. Given that the Democrats won the election nationally and statewide, but lost locally, that should include just about all of our adult readers.

I would remind everyone that the beauty of the system is that another election will be held in 723 days — but then who’s counting?

Two guys who are doing the math are DFLers, Sen. Al Franken and Gov. Mark Dayton, both of whom will be up for election if they choose to run.

In Minnesota, no matter who is president, Republican or Democrat, it makes no difference. In the off-year election, the president’s party loses at least a little. And when the president is in the middle of his second term, his party always takes it on the chin.

The fact is that in the century that senators have been directly elected by the people, no Senate candidate from the president’s party has ever won election from Minnesota in the off-year of the second term.

Furthermore, with one notable exception, the last time the president’s party won the governorship of this great state during a president’s second term was in 1875, when the entire adult population was about 200,000, and women weren’t allowed to vote.

In those days, Minnesota held its election in the odd-numbered years. Republican Ulysses S. Grant was in his second term from 1873-77. In 1873 Cushman Davis and in 1875, John Pillsbury, both Republicans, were elected.

The one other exception? Only six years ago, Republican Tim Pawlenty won a second term during the middle of George W. Bush’s second term. Pawlenty defeated DFLer Mike Hatch by 21,000 votes.

Some will say the only reason Pawlenty won was because Peter Hutchinson of the Independence Party drew 141,000 votes away from Hatch. However, other years have had strong third party candidacies, and the president’s party has never prevailed. In 137 years, Pawlenty remains the only gubernatorial or Senate candidate from the president’s party to win election in the sixth year of a presidency.

Regardless, in spite of Pawlenty’s re-election, no one looks back on the 2006 vote as a Republican victory. Amy Klobuchar, who won big again Tuesday, clobbered Mark Kennedy back then, DFLer Tim Walz upset incumbent Rep. Gil Gutknecht in the 1st District, and the DFL made gains in the Legislature.

Central Minnesota can be seen as a conservative outlier. By that I mean, this area is electing Republicans, but they are in the minority. Minnesota was a DFL stronghold for the first 30 years after World War II, then in 1978 the Republicans became competitive and remained so until that 2006 election.

In 2010, the Republicans made an astonishing comeback, taking control of the entire Legislature for the first time since party-designation was re-established in 1972. But they still lost the governorship.

Today, the DFL is crowing that it has total control of state government for the first time since 1990. Meanwhile, the Republicans have never had total control since long before World War II.

The single greatest problem facing Republicans now is that they don’t seem to have a clue how to reach out to minority voters or even that they ought to. That’s not a big issue here, where white voters make up well over 90 percent of the electorate, but the party needs to come up with a better message for not only minorities but working class whites statewide, or this area’s conservatives will never be more than a permanent minority.

Like it or not, the electorate is changing rapidly. This year, backers of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul essentially took over the Republican caucuses. Paul preaches a curious blend of fiscal conservatism, isolationism in foreign affairs and libertarianism on social issues.

The vote on the Marriage Amendment shows that the Republicans face a major challenge in trying to reconcile social conservatives with the Paulites.

Richard Nixon once said that the only issues that matter in an election are peace and prosperity or the lack thereof. I’ve always believed that, and thought that the lack of prosperity over the past five years would have voters restless for more change.

They weren’t, for the most part. Republicans put up a businessman to take on the president, and the victims of too many layoffs weren’t ready to go there. That’s easy to say in hindsight.

What would be really hard to believe is that the electorate actually thought marijuana, gay marriage and free birth control were more important issues.

By 2014, a different understanding of what the voters meant last Tuesday will have emerged. I’m not saying that 2014 will be a repeat of 2010, but the economy is under too much stress to allow any office holder to get comfortable.

Printing money and devaluing the efforts of savers works for a while, but ultimately it destroys wealth for everyone, rich, middle class or poor. When taxes go up in a few months, and the economy takes another dip, voters will be ready to send a different message the next time they go to the polls. That’s one thing you can count on.

Tom West is the editor and general manager of the Record. He may be reached at (320) 632-2345 or by e-mail at tom.west@mcrecord.com.

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