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The Biggest “Non-Issue” You’ve Ever Seen

What happened in 2006, what were the two big factors? George Bush and Iraq. Iraq’s going better, and George Bush isn’t on the ticket. ~Sen. John Ensign [1]

Ensign heads the NRSC, which means that he is supposed to be one of the main Republican strategists for the upcoming elections.  He seems entirely too confident that the war won’t be a significant net negative for the Republicans this year, but at least he understands it was a large part of what harmed them in ’06.  This is one of the relatively few times I have heard a leading Republican figure acknowledge that Iraq was a major factor in the defeat in 2006 in the last year.  However, it appears that Ensign hasn’t really absorbed what this means:

It [Iraq] just becomes more of a non-issue [bold mine-DL], I think is what it does. You see it keeps dropping farther and farther down on people’s radars, they may be opposed to the war but it’s not as important. But national security is still important to people, and who can handle national security.

The latest Pew survey [2] shows that 27% say that Iraq is the “most important problem facing the nation”–this view is most frequent among Democrats, but 25% of independents (and 21% of Republicans) say the same.  The economy does take first place, and the GOP is not faring well in public opinion there, either.  Even if you say that Iraq is only the second-most important issue, that is almost as far from a “non-issue” as it gets.  It’s hard not to conclude that Republican leaders remain as oblivious to the majority’s view of the war as they have ever been in the last two years.

Ensign is probably right when he says:

This election is going to be about independent voters. You know, our base is fine, their base is fine. It’s going to be about independents. Who attracts independents on issues, whether it’s the economy, whether it’s health care, whether it’s education, those kinds of issues that are core issues anymore, I think whichever candidates communicate the best, who has the best solutions.

If that’s right (and he may again be too optimistic about Republican voters), the GOP is pretty well sunk.  Independents have been trending towards the Democrats for the last year and show no signs of coming back anytime soon.

Then there was this bit about the New Mexico race:

He’s an ultra-liberal Udall. Udalls are pretty left-wing, but you know it’ll be a good contrast down there, but you know, it’s certainly a swing state, a tougher state, kind of a purple state.

They have a little advantage because we have a primary and they don’t. At the same time, that doesn’t mean you can’t win. We saw that in Virginia. Virginia had a primary, George Allen didn’t. He lost. So it still depends on who runs the good races.

So the NM GOP is in good shape, provided that Tom Udall runs the worst Senate campaign in American history.  The Republicans are going to be tearing each other down for the next four months, while Udall has every advantage.  Whichever one emerges to compete with him, he is going to win by a pretty sizeable margin.  Talk of “purple states” is misleading this year.  New Mexico is essentially a Democratic state that occasionally votes for Republican executives on state and federal levels for a change of pace.  New Mexico is quite uncanny in matching the results of presidential races and the national mood, and I don’t see a lot of New Mexicans voting for the Republican candidates this year.

Meanwhile, someone check Ensign’s office for hallucinogens:

I think we can actually sneak back into the majority on our best case scenario. I think we could get to 51. I think worst case scenario — 45, 46. That would be a real bad night, if we have a real bad night, we’re 45. A good night for us staying 48, 49, that’s a real good night. A great night is 51.

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1 Comment To "The Biggest “Non-Issue” You’ve Ever Seen"

#1 Comment By Koz On January 25, 2008 @ 8:16 pm

The electorate is in a bigger flux now than it has been in a long time. The GOP has 49 seats now, so I don’t’ think it’s hallucinogenic at all to think they might end up with 51 by the end of the election cycle.

That’s the upside. On the downside, I agree with you that most conservatives have been entirely too sanguine. Not so much about Iraq, but the total realignment away from the Reagan coalition.

Besides the fact that the Repubs lost a bunch of seats in 2006, there’s a couple of things which bear mention, but nonetheless have flown under the radar.

1. It wasn’t a total 1994-style washout, which is actually good for the D’s and bad for the GOP. After 1994, it was clear that voters got had taken their pound of flesh out of the D’s hide and anyone who wanted to vote for them again could. Unfortunately for the GOP, 2006 did not erase the popular resentment against the party and I fear 2008 might just be the second verse of the same song unless the Repubs can convince the voters that something’s different now.

2. In contrast to 1994, the D’s never made a positive sale, simply that they were the alternative to the GOP and that was good enough for then. On the other hand, the D’s are not especially popular themselves and if Hillary Clinton is nominee won’t be getting any more popular. If the GOP can convince the voters to put away their antipathy towards W, election night might not be too bad for them.