ELECTION '98/Jim Cullen
DANCE WITH WHO BRUNG YA:
Progressives Bolster the Democrats; What Will They Get in Return?
You wouldn't know that Republicans still have majorities in the House and
Senate, viewing the upheaval in House leadership after the Democrats gained
five seats there, but in politics momentum is everything. The election not
only perhaps saved Bill Clinton's presidency and sent House Speaker Newt
Gingrich packing after a party coup; it may have pointed the way toward
a resurgent progressive coalition in the Democratic Party while civil war
threatens the GOP.
Although only 36.1% of voting-age Americans went to the polls in the midterm
elections, the lowest percentage turnout since 1942, a strong turnout of
progressive voters, including union members, black and Hispanic voters and
women, responded to Democratic appeals that focused on education, patients'
rights and Social Security and closed the gap in the House by five seats.
Pre-election fears proved groundless that Republican hammering of Clinton's
sex scandal would depress the Democratic base vote. In fact, the GOP obsession
with impeachment--and disappointment over the capitulation to Clinton on
many points of the overdue appropriations bills in October--may have depressed
the Republican vote.
In Senate races, Democrats knocked off two incumbent senators, as conservative
Alphonse D'Amato was beaten by moderate U.S. Rep. Charles Schumer in New
York and archconservative Lauch Faircloth was beaten by lawyer John Edwards'
populist campaign in North Carolina, while outgoing Gov. Evan Bayh, a moderate,
picked up the Indiana seat given up by right winger Dan Coats. Republicans
unseated liberal Carole Moseley-Braun in Illinois and picked up the seats
given up by moderate Democrats Sen. John Glenn in Ohio and Wendell Ford
in Kentucky. But Democrats, bolstered by a strong union presence, carried
the day in Wisconsin for Sen. Russell Feingold, a progressive populist who
made a principled decision to forego "soft money" assistance in
his re-election effort. Democrats also re-elected Barbara Boxer in California,
Harry Reid by just 401 votes in Nevada, Fritz Hollings in South Carolina
and Patty Murray in Washington. In California, organized labor found its
muscle when it defeated union-bashing Proposition 226 in June, then helped
elect Gray Davis as governor, re-elect Sen. Barbara Boxer and keep Democratic
majorities in the state Assembly.
The new House of Representatives will have at least 95 progressives. All
55 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who ran for re-election
won their races. They included Lane Evans, who won with 53% of the vote
in the hotly contested 17th District of western Illinois despite the enormous
amount of corporate money poured into his opponent's race. Other members
re-elected by much higher margins included ranking House Judiciary Democrat
John Conyers of Michigan, with 75% of the vote; Nydia Velazquez (D-NY),
83% of the vote; Bernie Sanders (I-VT), chairman of the Progressive Caucus,
with 64%; and Charles Rangel (D-NY), with 94%.
At least 14 new members were elected on progressive platforms, according
to the Institute for Policy Studies, which compared their campaign literature
and past activities with an eight-point "Fairness Agenda for America"
drafted by the Progressive Challenge network over the past year (see the
agenda online at www.netprogress.org).
Eight progressive candidates won open Democratic seats, according to IPS:
* Jan Schakowsky, a Democrat from Illinois' 9th District, has long been
an advocate for consumers, senior citizens and women's rights. She has spoken
out about human rights and demilitarization as well as supported campaign
* Grace Napolitano, a Democrat from California's 34th District, served as
chair of the Women's Legislative Caucus during her 6 years in the California
State House, with a strong record on women's rights, worker and immigrant
rights and has the strong support of the Sierra Club and other environmentalists.
Napolitano is also a strong supporter of public education.
* Anthony Weiner, a Democrat from New York's 9th District, has advocated
protecting social security, supporting public schools and increasing recycling
programs. He has also worked within his community for a more progressive
tax code and for crime prevention programs.
* Charlie Gonzalez, a Democrat from Texas' 20th District (and son of retiring
Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez, a legendary progressive populist), has stood for
workers rights and equality throughout his campaign. He is a supporter of
public schools, immigrant rights and equality for women.
* Michael Capuano, a Democrat from Massachusetts' 8th District, has spoken
out for campaign finance reform and supported social programs such as education
and social security. Capuano has also advocated workers' rights and labor
issues as well as environmental protection.
* Stephanie Tubbs-Jones, a Democrat from Ohio's 11th District, has emphasized
in her campaign the need for quality education for all, the importance of
affirmative action, and health care benefits for all. As a county prosecutor
and judge, Tubbs-Jones has worked to make her community safer through crime
prevention programs and innovative law enforcement.
* David Wu, a Democrat from Oregon's 1st District, ran a campaign focusing
largely on the need to improve education in addition to reinforcing social
security and environmental protection. He has voiced strong opposition to
Fast Track trade authority and staunchly supported worker rights.
* Mark Udall, a Democrat from Colorado's 2nd District, has headed the Colorado
Outward Bound program and been a member of the General Assembly. He is a
staunch supporter of the environmental legislation for clean air, water,
and the protection of public lands. He also advocates for women's rights
and better worker safety regulations.
Three progressive candidates won open Republican seats:
* Tammy Baldwin won in Wisconsin's 2nd District after a tough grassroots
campaign. She has led the fight on progressive issues throughout her career
in the Wisconsin state legislature, proposing bills on a range of issues
from living wage and workers rights, to support for public education and
strong environmental protection. She has advocated a progressive tax system,
universal health care and women's rights. She is also the first openly gay
person, nonincumbent elected to Congress.
* Brian Baird, a Democrat from Washington's 3rd District has throughout
his campaign spoken out about the need for living wage jobs and job training
programs. A clinical psychologist and professor, he has stressed the need
for patient's rights in obtaining medical treatment.
Shelley Berkley, who did not make the IPS progressive list but was endorsed
as a progressive populist by Democrats 2000, took back the 1st District
seat in Nevada. She was a regent for Nevada's University and Community College
System, former president of a local PBS and school district television station,
and a member of her local school district's advisory committee, and she
campaigned on improving education.
Four progressives beat incumbent Republicans:
* Joe Hoeffel, a Democrat from Pennsylvania's 13th District, worked as county
commissioner to protect the environment from suburban sprawl and pollution.
As representative in the state legislature, Joe Hoeffel fought for women's
rights, public education, and campaign finance reform.
* Tom Udall, a Democrat from New Mexico's 3rd District, served as State
Attorney General. Udall has been a leader on environmental issues. He also
highlighted health care and education in his campaign against conservative
incumbent Rep. Redmond.
* Jay Inslee, a Democrat from Washington's 1st District, focused his campaign
on healthcare and the environment.
* Rush Holt, a Democrat from New Jersey's 12th District spoke out about
the need to preserve and strengthen the Clean Air Act and improve environmental
protection. He has advocated health care reform, gun control and improvements
"Today's vote represents a vital shift in the U.S. Congress towards
progressive Democrats," said Karen Dolan of the Institute for Policy
Studies. "The more conservative 'New Democrats,' who back President
Clinton would have you believe otherwise. They have spun the election as
a major victory for 'moderates.' The truth of the matter is that House Democrats
are comprised of 55 self-declared 'progressives' (current members of the
Congressional Progressive Caucus) and at least 25 more with equally progressive
voting records. Now, with the gain of 14 new progressive Democrats, the
number of progressives comes to about  out of 211 House Democrats. Of
the remaining , many fall somewhere between progressive and the Democratic
Leadership Council's celebrated 'New Democrat' centrist. It would be wrong
to conclude that the centrist New Democrats have any mandate or claim on
Democrats gained a few governors, including Alabama, South Carolina and
Iowa as well as California. But even the biggest surprise of the night--Jesse
"The Body" Ventura's upset victory as Reform Party candidate for
governor of Minnesota, which was a stunning defeat for Democrat Hubert "Skip"
Humphrey--presented an exciting opportunity to expand the populist debate
in the United States. Although Ventura was ridiculed for his colorful past
as a professional wrestler, he energized the electorate and moved to set
up a transitional staff to take on the serious task of governing. [See story
on page 10.]
Tom Vilsack's upset victory in the Iowa governor's race over heavily favored
Republican Jim Ross Lightfoot was overshadowed by the wild card win of Ventura
to the north, but Vilsack, a progressive lawyer and state senator, whittled
a 20-point deficit in the polls down to 5 points the Sunday before the election,
then went on to beat the Republican former congressman with 52 percent of
the vote. Vilsack campaigned on smaller school class sizes, property tax
reform and stricter regulation of large-scale hog feeding operations and
insurance companies that deny benefits to those in need. He also capitalized
on strong support from Sen. Tom Harkin and organized labor as well as voter
disgust with Lightfoot's negative campaign to become the first Democrat
in the Governor's Mansion since Harold Hughes in 1968. (Republicans still
control the House and Senate.)
Democrats won the big prize in California with the election of Gray Davis
as governor and Democratic majorities in both the state Senate and the Assembly,
threatening to shut Republicans out of reapportionment in the nation's most
populous state in 2001.
Texas, ranking second in population, was perhaps the biggest disappointment
for Democrats, as Republican George W. Bush, whose popularity belies a record
of lackluster accomplishments, led a sweep of the last remaining Democrats
from statewide offices. However, Democrats kept a slim majority in the state
House of Representatives, trimmed the Republican majority in the Senate
to one, and kept a 17-13 advantage in the congressional delegation.
Democrats gained majorities in the state senates in New Hampshire, Wisconsin
and Washington. They won control of the houses in Indiana, North Carolina
and Washington as well. Overall, they gained 45 seats and now control 53
legislative chambers, up from 50 before the election.
Republicans, on the other hand, took control of the Minnesota House and
the Michigan House from the Democrats. They also beat back Democratic efforts
to win a majority in the Oregon House.
In addition to the election of Jeb Bush as governor of Florida, the GOP
retained both houses of the Florida legislature, marking the first time
since Reconstruction that Republicans have controlled both the executive
and legislative branches of a Southern state.
"Democrats have a lot to be proud of this year," said Kelly Young,
executive director of Democrats 2000, a D.C.-based group that advocates
progressive, populist elected officials at the local, state and national
levels. "We held the line in state capitols," Young said. Democrats
ended up controlling 22, Republicans controlling 17 and 11 were split. Republicans
showed a net loss of one governor's office, but Young noted that 75% of
American people live in states with Republican governors, including eight
of the nine most populous states.
Young concluded, "We've got less than two years to take advantage of
the momentum from 1998. As FDR said, 'Never have we had so little time in
which to accomplish so much.' But we can do it, as we saw this year."
Social Security was a top issue for voters of every age in all competitive
House and Senate races, Thomas Matzzie of the Campaign for America's Future
reported. In general, politicians of both parties scrambled to show their
strong support for "saving Social Security," demonstrating that
they can read the polls and they can learn from their encounters with voters.
So Long, Privatization
The Democratic pledge to "Save Social Security First"--that is,
to prevent the spending of the Federal surplus until there is a plan for
securing Social Security's long term financing--stymied Republican plans
to play their most attractive card: tax cuts. In virtually all House and
Senate races, candidates had to pledge a commitment to preserving Social
Security. In many Senate races Social Security was a deciding factor.
In the Arkansas Senate race, Social Security was an important issue in the
race for the open seat. Democrat Blanche Lincoln blasted Republican Fay
Boozman for his support of the Kerrey-Moynihan plan that would raise the
retirement age and cut benefits in order to fund private accounts. The conservative
Democrat found a responsive audience for her populist pro-Social Security
message. She won.
In almost every race, candidates who won were best able to cast themselves
as the defender and protector of Social Security. In eight of the nine close
Senate races, the winners opposed privatization--successfully casting themselves
as defenders of the system. This includes Republican Peter Fitzgerald in
Illinois. Exit polls show that this was the second most frequently cited
chief concern of voters in Illinois. Braun won 56% of voters who chose Social
Security as their top concern. Unfortunately, she was carrying too much
baggage from other areas of concern.
Only in Kentucky did a privatizer win a close race. Rep. Jim Bunning (R-KY)
bragged of his accomplishments as chairman of the House Social Security
subcommittee. In fact, Matzzie noted, Jim Bunning's tenure as subcommittee
chair was marked by a parade of hearing witnesses focused on privatization
and the deep cuts in benefits that would accompany it. Bunning's opponent,
U.S. Rep. Scotty Baesler (D-KY), did not attack Bunning's support for privatization.
Social Security helped Dennis Moore (D-KS) unseat Republican incumbent Vince
Snowbarger (R-KS), breaking the GOP hold on the Kansas City-area 3rd District.
Much of Moore's attacks focused on Snowbarger's statement that Social Security
should "be phased out"--a reference to privatization. Even an
ad featuring Kansan Bob Dole could not help Snowbarger.
Democratic challenger Jay Inslee also made Social Security one of the top
issues in his defeat of Republican incumbent Rick White in Washington state.
In Pennsylvania, Joseph Hoeffel (D) defeated incumbent John D. Fox (R),
with Hoeffel's opposition to privatization forming a significant component
of his message.
[Note: the Campaign for America's Future is organizing a "New Century
Alliance to Protect and Strengthen Social Security," reflecting the
same impulse to strengthen, rather than dismantle Social Security which
drove the election debate. The new coalition will be announced before the
December 8 White House Conference on Social Security. For more information,
contact Roger Hickey at 202-955-5665.]
Campaign Reform Lives
Voters in Arizona and Massachusetts resoundingly said they want to stop
special interests from buying politicians. Massachusetts voters approved
"The Clean Elections Law" by a 2-1 margin while in Arizona "The
Citizens Clean Elections Act" passed with 51 percent approval.
Arizona and Massachusetts are now poised to join Maine and Vermont in offering
candidates for state-level office a chance to break the hold special interests
have on public officials through their campaign contributions. Both referenda
provide an alternative system of campaign financing that gives all qualifying
candidates who agree to take little or no private money and who agree to
limit their campaign spending, a fixed amount of money from a publicly financed
pool. Minnesota offers matching funds for candidates who poll more than
5% support and agree to spending limits.
The victories in Arizona and Massachusetts were complemented by the reelection
of reform leader Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) and the defeat of Republican
Sen. Lauch Faircloth of North Carolina, a well-known friend of big-monied
interests and opponent of campaign finance reform.
"The victories in Arizona and Massachusetts for Clean Money Campaign
Reform prove that voters have the political will to enact far-reaching campaign
finance reform, whether they are liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican,
business or labor," said Ellen Miller, executive director of Public
Campaign, which promotes public financing of political campaigns. "It
is now up to the reform community to demonstrate further that Members of
Congress can be held accountable for not supporting the kind of sweeping
reform measures the voters want." [See more of her remarks elsewhere.]
The victories also provide strong momentum to local, grassroots efforts
in other states working to bring Clean Money reforms to their own electoral
systems. Missouri is slated to put Clean Money to the ballot test in 2000,
while New Mexico will introduce Clean Money Campaign Reform legislation
in January. At least 40 other states are working toward Clean Money reform,
including Washington, Oregon and Wisconsin, as they continue to build and
broaden their state coalitions and educate voters about the problems of
money in politics.
Among the other 233 statewide initiatives, voters said they didn't want
the government to intrude in their lives, whether it is to limit abortions,
deny medicinal marijuana to the seriously ill, or tell people where they
Washington state voters approved a measure to ban racial or gender preferences
in government hiring and contracts and college admissions, in a rejection
of affirmative action.
Medicinal use of marijuana won voter approval in Alaska, Arizona, Nevada,
Oregon and Washington state. Vote results on a similar measure in D.C. were
kept secret after Congress, which controls the district's budget, arbitrarily
cut funding for the initiative after it appeared on the ballot and forbade
the release of the results. Exit polls suggested that the medicinal marijuana
measure won with 70% support.
California Indian tribes won broad voter approval to continue running their
casinos unhampered by state control and Missouri voters approved lucrative
slot machines on the so-called "boats in moats.'' At issue was a 1997
state Supreme Court decision that the Missouri constitution didn't allow
slots on the boats, tethered in man-made lagoons, and that such games of
chance could be played only on the main channels of the Missouri and Mississippi
Washington and Colorado rejected proposals to restrict the late-term procedure
known by opponents as "partial-birth abortions,'' but Colorado approved
parental notification for minors seeking abortions.
On tax measures, South Dakotans rejected a plan to prevent property tax
revenues from financing schools, Nebraskans turned down a proposal to limit
the amount of money state and local governments could raise through taxes,
and Coloradans declined income-tax credit for parents of school-age children,
whether in public or private school or taught at home.
California voters approved cigarette tax of 50 cents a pack to go to early
childhood development funds.
On environmental measures, South Dakota voters tightened restrictions on
corporate farming, with an aim to rein in sprawling hog farms; Oregon rejected
limits on forest clearcutting; and Montana approved a ban on the use of
cyanide leaching in new open-pit gold mining projects.
Massachusetts voters affirmed the state's new electricity deregulation deal.
Californians also endorsed their new deregulation system by rejecting a
measure to cut off customers' obligation to pay billions in utility debt.
Voters approved at least three corporate welfare deals: The Denver Broncos
and the San Diego Padres will get new stadia, and Cincinnati voters removed
an obstacle to a new stadium.
Virtually all candidates in House, Senate and gubernatorial races, regardless
of party, voiced support for the passage of some form of patient protection
legislation, according to a national health care consumer group, Families
USA. In addition, supporters of patient protections won in a number of close
"If this election shows anything, it demonstrates that virtually no
one is willing to defend the insurance industry's position on the issue
of patient protections. The industry has said they want no legislation,
but regardless of office and regardless of party, almost every candidate
in this election cycle called for legislation to protect consumers from
managed care abuses," said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families
Despite over $2 million in managed care company contributions to congressional
campaigns across the country, patient protections played a major role in
many races, often with both major candidates touting their support of HMO
"Patient protections are a priority for the American public. It was
a priority in most of the campaigns this election year. It now needs to
be a priority for the 106th Congress and state legislatures throughout the
country," added Pollack.
Examples of how the issue of patient protections played out in this year's
* Despite a rash of negative ads funded by the insurance industry targeting
Democrat John Edwards, Edwards defeated Lauch Faircloth (R) in a race that
focused on the issue of patient protections in managed care.
* Governor-Elect Robert Taft's (R-OH) health care platform focused on reforming
managed care, including allowing consumers to sue health insurers for damages
for improperly refusing care.
* In the Connecticut race for Governor, because of pressure from challenger
Barbara Kennelly (D), incumbent John Rowland (R) modified his own position
on HMO reforms, and came out in support of a patient's right to sue HMOs.
* Republican Ernest Fletcher narrowly beat Ernesto Scorsone (D) in the 6th
District in Kentucky. Both Fletcher and Scorsone used the issue of patient
protections in their campaigns. Fletcher, a medical doctor, ran television
spots on the need for plans to allow patients to go out of network to see
* Strickland (D-OH), Moore (D-KS), Lucas (D-KY), Berkley (D-NV), Udall (D-NM),
and Baldwin (D-WI) all won close congressional races by making patient protections
a major part of their campaigns.
"The insurance industry was unable to buy victories in these elections
because public support for patient protection legislation is just too strong,"
said Pollack. "Congress now has a mandate from the American public
to pass patient protections."
Unions Finish Stronger
Working families made their voices heard at the polls, narrowing the anti-working
family majority in Congress, defeating the last remaining state "paycheck
deception" measure, increasing the number of elected officials who
are union members and electing worker-friendly candidates across America.
"I believe that the 1998 elections usher in a new era of people-powered
politics," said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, "with union members
turning out at record levels and making the difference in race after race,
and with African American and Latino participation way up."
In 1996 the AFL-CIO spent $25 million on broadcast advertisements. This
year it spent about $5 million on broadcast ads and $15 million on leaflets,
phone banks and nearly 400 coordinators working full-time for more than
a month in congressional districts nationwide.
The unions registered half a million voters and members of their families,
sent more than 9.5 million pieces of mail to union households, made 5.5
million personal phone calls, and distributed fliers to hundreds of thousands
of worksites to educate union members about working family issues and candidate
positions on those issues.
The effort paid off, according to national exit polling by Voter News Service,
which showed that 23 percent of voters in the mid-term election were members
of union households, up from 14 percent in 1994, when the Democrats lost
In at least one race, union members probably made the difference in re-electing
Sen. Russell Feingold, who was greatly outspent by Republicans who targeted
him because of his campaign finance reform efforts. According to exit polls,
31 percent of Wisconsin voters came from union households and 63 percent
of these voters backed Feingold. Only 44 percent of non-union voters supported
According to a post-election survey by Peter D. Hart Research, 67 percent
of union voters said issues are what mattered most to them in this election--more
than party politics and far more than the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. Topping
their list of concerns, according to the Hart survey, were retirement and
Social Security, education, the economy and jobs and health care.
In Oregon, 53 percent of voters said "no" to the last remaining
state-level attempt to silence the voice of working families in politics
through Measure 59, a ballot initiative much like California's ill-fated
Proposition 226, which was soundly defeated in June. Thousands of California
union members who had mobilized to defeat Prop. 226 carried their momentum
through the election campaign, participating in phone banks, precinct walks
and get-out-the-vote rallies.
Six hundred union members ran for public office, including Maggie Carlton,
the new Nevada state senator in District 2. A member of Culinary Workers
Local 226 and a waitress at Treasure Island Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas,
Carlton is the first union member to hold a Senate seat in the state's history.
"Union members are really ready to elect people who are just like them,"
she said after her "front porch campaign" earned her 58 percent
of the vote.
Push for Diversity
The elections confirmed the importance of grassroots get-out-the-vote efforts
and underscored the power of women's vote as well as that of minority voters.
Clinton and the Democrats clearly owe a debt to unions, minorities and women.
Despite the loss of Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, nearly 70 percent of the National
Organization for Women PAC's endorsed candidates sailed to victory. Six
new women, all of whom campaigned as women's rights and abortion rights
supporters, were elected to the House for a net gain of two women. With
the election of Democrat Blanche Lambert Lincoln in Arkansas, the number
of women stayed even in the Senate at six Democrats and three Republicans.
However, NOW President Patricia Ireland said, "While we celebrate our
victories, we are dismayed that progress is so slow. At this rate, women
will not achieve equal representation for more than 200 years. Congress
remains nearly 90 percent white and 90 percent male in a country that is
51 percent women and approximately 30 percent people of color. ...
"Our only hope for progress is to change the faces of the people in
power," Ireland said. "We must elect real feminists to public
offices at every level ­p; from dog catcher to president. To pick-up
the pace, NOW PACs' Victory 2000 campaign will continue to fill up the pipeline
by electing 2000 feminists to office by the end of the century to be ready
for the next post-reapportionment, redistricting election in 2002."
The new House includes 39 blacks--all Democrats except Rep. J.C. Watts Jr.
of Oklahoma; 20 Latinos--17 Democrats and three Republicans; and 58 women--41
Democrats and 17 Republicans. Watts was selected Republican conference chair
while Robert Menendez of New Jersey was selected vice chairman of the Democratic
Black voters should expect some payback, but they already are seeing a reward
for their loyalty, U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif, told the online magazine
Salon. The Congressional Black Caucus, which she chairs, won almost
a half-billion dollars in funding for new programs in the recent budget
deal, including a $250 million program for out-of-school youth, $156 million
in AIDS funding targeted to African-Americans, $41 million in funding for
black farmers and several million more for drug treatment.
"They will only do what you make them do, and we twisted some arms
to get them to ante up," Waters said. "But I'm not about to lose
the leverage of this election turnout. They got to pay." Waters said
she'll seek additional funding for drug treatment, health services, alternatives
to incarceration and an end to disparate sentencing for those convicted
of selling or using crack and powder cocaine, "an issue on which we've
had to fight our president," she notes.
Candidates who campaigned on protecting the environment won races from California's
redwoods to the New York islands. Sierra Club efforts contributed to the
victories of pro-environment candidates in 38 out of 43 priority races,
for an 88% success rate.
"Yesterday, voters spoke loud and clear. And today, Congress is greener.
Clearly, the public wants the next Congress to protect America's environment,"
said Chuck McGrady, president of the Sierra Club. "Voters [on November
3] said 'no' to divisive partisan politics and 'yes' to solving the problems
that affect their daily lives--including cleaning up our air and water and
Sierra Club priority candidates included: Barbara Boxer and Gray Davis in
California, Charles Schumer in New York, John Edwards in North Carolina,
Patty Murray in Washington state, Russ Feingold in Wisconsin, and in House
races Mark Udall in Colorado, Tom Udall in New Mexico, Neil Abercrombie
in Hawaii, and Jay Inslee in Washington.
In addition, Sierra Club won all three independent expenditure campaigns:
House candidates Brian Baird in Washington and Dennis Moore in Kansas (the
first time a Democrat has held the seat in 50 years), and Parris Glendening
in the Maryland governor's race.
The Sierra Club Political Committee contributed $500,000 in direct and in-kind
contributions to these candidates. It also conducted a massive get out the
vote program that contacted 250,000 members, close to half of the Club's
To inform the public and encourage them to contact their elected officials
about the environment, the Sierra Club broadcast television and radio ads
in 40 markets describing the records of 25 incumbents. The Club also distributed
one million postcards to the public that they could mail to lawmakers, urging
these legislators to vote to protect the environment. These activities were
part of the Club's ongoing program of grassroots lobbying and public education.
Finally, the Club mailed and distributed one million voter guides to inform
the public about the candidates' positions on critical environmental problems.
Jesse "The Body" Ventura gave the Reform Party a stunning upset
victory in the Minnesota governor's race, but other alternative parties
had considerably less luck.
The Green Party fielded 111 candidates in the November general election,
including candidates for governor in Alaska, California, Maine, Minnesota,
New York, and Oregon. Eight Greens were elected to local offices in November
elections. (Six Greens were also elected on the municipal level earlier
in the year.) The party failed to regain ballot status in Alaska but regained
ballot status in Maine, where the Green candidate's 7% showing was just
5 points below that of the Democratic candidate. It also gained ballot status
in D.C. and retained ballot status in New Mexico, where the Green candidate
for state auditor received 29% of the vote. Al Lewis, the actor who played
"Grandpa" on the Munsters, only got 1% of the vote for governor
in New York, but that was enough to qualify the Greens for a ballot line
in the next election.
In California, the Greens fielded 33 candidates and scored 7 wins in local
races. Dan Hamburg, a former Democratic congressman, got only 1.3% of the
vote as the Green candidate for governor but Sara Amir got 3.1% as the Green
candidate for lieutenant governor. Greens also elected a county council
member in Hawaii.
The Working Families Party, a coalition of groups including the New Party,
Citizen Action, ACORN and unions, petitioned for a place on the ballot and
cross-nominated Democratic candidate Peter Vallone as its candidate for
governor, but two weeks after the election party officials were still waiting
to find out if they got the 50,000 votes needed to qualify for permanent
ballot status. The party crowed that 32 of 39 NP-backed candidates won their
races for city council, county board, state legislature, and congressional
seats in a half-dozen states.
Rebuilding the Coalition
Ruy Teixeira of the Economic Policy Institute, in an analysis of the voting
trends, "Waitress Moms and Technician Dads," (available online
at www.epinet.org), wrote that the election showed that Democrats could
rebuild a coalition of low-to-middle income voters to produce congressional
majorities by making economic issues the wedge issues of the 21st century
"Until recently, the potent wedge issues of American politics were
social. Republicans painted the Democrats as excessively tolerant on issues
like crime and welfare and out of touch with the preferences of the average
voter. Moreover, there was a perception that Democrats were tied in an unhealthy
way to interest groups within their party that pushed this excessive liberalism.
"Today, for a variety of reasons, those issues do not cut against the
Democrats the way they used to, and in their place are a new a set of wedge
issues that are basically economic. As a result, it is now fairly easy to
tie the Republicans to business special interests that are on the wrong
side of these economic wedge issues and fairly hard to tie the Democrats
to constituency special interests promoting a liberal social agenda."
Teixeira noted that, by margins of 21-33 percentage points, voters prefer
the Democrats on issues ranging from health care to Social Security to education.
Democrats who emphasized these issues in their campaign commercials did
"These results suggest that, despite the economic progress of the last
several years, large numbers of voters are concerned about their health
security, their retirement security, and their ability to get the right
kind of education and training to adapt successfully to the new economy.
Because Republicans seem callous and unresponsive to these concerns, the
Democrats have a perfect wedge into the swing voters in the GOP camp.
"But for these new wedge issues to be truly effective, the Democrats
may have to draw sharper and clearer distinctions between themselves and
the GOP. Right now, although the Democrats are on the voters' side of these
issues, the differences with the GOP are often small or confusing to voters.
For example, both parties want to regulate health maintenance organizations,
but the Democrats want individuals to be able to sue HMOs. Both parties
want to 'save' Social Security, but the Democrats want to reserve all the
surplus for Social Security rather than just 90%. Both parties want to improve
the educational system through structural reforms and tax breaks, but Democrats
are also committed to some modest new spending initiatives.
"As we shall see below, these modest differences, while breaking in
the Democrats favor and helping them to mobilize their base, may not be
enough to rebuild their congressional coalition among the 'waitress moms'
and 'technician dads' who continue to find the Democrats an uncompelling
In 1992, the Democrats received 54% of the House vote. In 1998, they received
just under 50%. Teixeira noted that the decline in the Democratic vote has
been concentrated among whites and Hispanics--particularly among those with
less education and income--while black support has remained unchanged; in
fact it increased from 1996 to 1998.
"Technician dads and waitress moms are the real 'suburban swing voters,'
the ones the Democrats must reach to rebuild their congressional coalition,"
Teixeira wrote. "Yet it is the affluent suburban voters--those with
$75,000 or more in household income and usually holding college degrees,
who are more typically mentioned as the target of choice by self-styled
New Democrats, even though such voters are outnumbered 3-to-1 by their midscale
to downscale counterparts who, despite recent improvements, are still only
tepid Democratic supporters."
Teixeira concluded: "The Democrats face a choice. They can either concentrate
on building a new base among college-educated affluent voters who want to
be protected from the Republican extreme right but who are lukewarm on the
economic issues that constitute the Democrats' real comparative advantage,
or they can concentrate on rebuilding their support among the waitress moms
and technician dads who find current Democratic initiatives insufficient
to win their loyalty.
"If the Democrats choose the first course, it seems likely that they
will have to rely on continuous mobilization of their union and minority
base simply to break even in congressional elections: the numbers aren't
there to develop a majority coalition.
"However, if the Democrats can rebuild their strength among waitress
moms and technician dads, and join that strength to their current union
and minority base, a natural Democratic majority can easily emerge. While
there are risks in developing the large-scale economic wedge issues that
would pry these voters away from the Republicans, the Democrats have a big
issue advantage on which to build."
For more information on the organizations cited above, see our web site,
A Progressive Opening
"This was an incumbents' election, but not a status-quo election,"
said Robert L. Borosage of the Campaign for America's Future, after the
election. "It marks the end of the conservative resurgence. People
just aren't buying what Gingrich is peddling, and money and mud wasn't enough."
Not only is the conservative agenda unattractive, but their political strategy
has reached its limit. "The politics of division doesn't add up,"
said Borosage. "Republicans are paying an ever higher cost for being
the party of white, male sanctuary. " [See Borosage's column elsewhere
in this issue.]
For Democrats, progressive activists said, the politics of inclusion works--and
Democrats can coalesce around bread and butter economic issues of concern
to working Americans. The Democratic mantra was education, economy Social
Security and health care reform and it fueled a strong turnout in key states
by union voters and African-American voters. Union voters this year made
up 22 percent of voters, compared to 14 percent in 1994. Similarly, African-American
voters increased from 9 percent to 11 percent and Hispanic voters jumped
from 3 to 5 percent in this year's election.
While enjoying the conservative collapse, Democrats cannot stand pat on
the status quo. To regain majority status, said Ruy Teixeira, director of
politics and public opinion at the Economic Policy Institute, Democrats
have to reach out to low and moderate income voters. To do so, they will
have to put forth a bolder agenda that addresses the real problems faced
by working families. [See more of Teixeira's remarks below.]
Second, Democrats must "dance with those who brought them to the party,"
said Borosage. Across the country, voters supported candidates who promised
to save Social Security. House Speaker Newt Gingrich revealed just how tone
deaf he is, by concluding "the number one lesson to learn is we ought
to come back to Washington in January with a proposal to save Social Security
by using the surplus to create private savings accounts."
"Voters do not think that turning Social Security over to Wall Street,
cutting guaranteed benefits and raising the retirement age to pay for private
accounts is "saving Social Security," warned Borosage, "Democrats
should stand firm against attempts to privatize Social Security. To compromise
on this would be a staggering breach of faith to the very voters that have
revived the party's fortunes and hold the key to its future."
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