From this morning's Charleston Gazette:
Sen. Joe Manchin said the West Virginia Democratic Party and its leaders should not be blamed for the shellacking that Democrats took in state and federal races.
Who, then, is responsible?
Manchin suggested that Democrats in Washington became complacent after the party won back-to-back presidential elections. "It was no different than WVU’s [football] game Saturday against TCU," he said. "West Virginia should have won that game by all rights. It got to the point where we said, ‘OK, we’re ahead now, can we just wait out the clock?’ And we got beat. That happens in Washington. They waited it out and got beat."
"No different"? That’s a terrible analogy. The Democrats lost for a number of reasons -- waiting for the game to end was not one of them. The Democratic Party never had a clearly defined message as the Republicans did with their "elect us - we will defeat Obama and the EPA and return West Virginia to the 1950s and 1960s when coal was king." For the Republicans it didn’t matter that the war on coal was lost many years ago with the increasing mechanization of the mines long before the EPA became concerned with carbon emissions and decades before Obama was elected President. And never mind that the marketplace has clearly decided that natural gas is a much cheaper alternative to coal. The Republicans had a message and they had a very convenient scapegoat in the President for all that has gone wrong in West Virginia. And what was the response from the Democrats? "We agree." What I’ve written about Tennant applies just as well to the congressional candidates: you can’t out-Capito Capito – the voters will go with the original.
Will the election of Republicans return the state to those glory days that seniors (who are just about the only people who vote in this state) so fondly remember? Of course not. Reversing the decline of coal isn’t going to happen regardless of who we elect to Congress or, for that matter, the state legislature. Compared to cheap natural gas, coal doesn’t stand a chance. And while Republicans may have won big on Tuesday in coal states, the rest of the United States is still moving away from coal regardless of who was elected.
Okay, I’ve said what I thought Tennant and the congressional candidates did wrong. What would I have done differently? Here are a couple of thoughts. First, I would have pushed what the Democrats have done for West Virginians. In particular, I would have featured health care (yes, it’s called "Obamacare") which the Republicans repeatedly tried to revoke. West Virginia now has over 150,000 people who did not have health care at this time last year. How many times did Capito vote to defund it? (Last spring in Wheeling at West Liberty’s political rally for her she said "I don’t know anyone who likes it." I would have shown the clip with the tag "and she was telling the truth.") Along the same lines, it was our Democratic governor who pushed for the extension of these health care benefits. I would have also stressed the historic core of the Democrats – support for unions and a strong working/middle class and what the Republicans are trying to do to both of them. Additionally, I would have attacked much more than Tennant did Capito’s Wall Street and banking connections and how much money she has gotten from them. Finally (and I realize this would have been risky), I would have come out against mountaintop removal mining by discussing the health risks and what it is doing to the inherent beauty of the state. I realize that saying anything against mining is dangerous but I’ve seen a couple of polls that say that a majority of West Virginian’s are against it.
I don’t know that anything could have prevented the Republicans from winning this year – it may have been "a perfect storm." My fear, however, is that this "me too" approach to campaigning will become the Democratic response in future elections in which case they will become a permanent minority party. Instead of "me too," what about developing a vision that stresses the middle and working classes, unions, and the development of a future vision for the state in which coal is not the only answer?
Update I - November 7
According to the morning Intelligencer, Manchin is visiting the area and saying that he wants to work with the Republicans. Maybe it's me but I came away from the article with the feeling that Joe might have switched parties had the Republicans really needed him. And then there is this:
Manchin said he's a firm believer that the game of politics should end on Election Day.
"After that, you'd better be working on the policies for the people that sent you" to Washington, he said.
Yeah, right. Joe won't be playing any politics until 2016.
Update II - November 7
The Associated Press is reporting this morning that West Virginia's voter turnout was the lowest in many years.
While West Virginia Republicans made historic gains this election, the state’s voters set a low mark for making their voices heard.
A paltry 37.3 percent of registered voters cast ballots in this year’s general election, the lowest turnout for a regular general election in at least 64 years, according to figures from the secretary of state.
The article does not break the voting down by age groups but if WV is like the rest of the nation, the senior vote was especially critical.
A voter statistic I'd like to see is the percentage of new health care enrollees who voted. And I doubt that I will see it, but it would be interesting if some exit poll told us how they voted.
What happened to objectively reporting what is happening in the senate race?
Friday’s senatorial debate (you can watch it here) took place without Shelley Capito who had other commitments and the other candidates definitely called attention to her absence. Surprisingly, given the quite-different ideologies of the participants, there was very little clash among the candidates. The debate was also devoid of the personal attacks that were part of the first debate. (I think the format and Capito’s absence contributed this.) As a result, I probably learned more about the participating candidate’s positions than I did in the first debate. (Rather than calling it a debate, I probably would have called it a "candidates’ forum.")
If you missed the debate and opened the morning "newspaper" to see what had transpired, you may have wondered "I thought there was a debate yesterday – what happened?" The Intelligencer chose not to cover the debate. Why not? Perhaps there is another reason other than "why would we cover it if Shelley wasn’t there?" (If there is, please go to "comments" after hitting the "read more" tag to suggest what that might be.) Yes, once again our local "newspaper" demonstrates that it is a propaganda vehicle of the Republican Party rather than, despite all of its self-congratulatory editorials, a real newspaper committed to informing its readers. I also checked the other five Ogden-owned newspapers in the state of West Virginia to see if possibly they thought that yesterday’s debate was worthy of a story. None of them covered the debate. Finally, you might contrast this lack of reporting with the coverage in Saturday’s Charleston Gazette-Mail.
This morning’s Intelligencer contains their editorial endorsements and, certainly not to any regular reader’s surprise, the Intelligencer endorses Capito and McKinley. Tomorrow we’re due for another anti-Tennant screed and we’ll likely read about what a huge lead Capito has. Okay editors, if all this is true, why not cover the debate? What are you afraid of? Can’t you at least pretend that you have at least some objectivity in covering this campaign?
Update I (October 18) - Apparently all five candidates were in one place on Thursday when they met with the Charleston Daily Mail editorial board. You can read about it here. The featured quotes from Capito and Tennant were predictable. Two of the minority party candidates, however, were more to the point:
"The whole campaign has degenerated into who loves coal more, and who dislikes Obama most. It’s infantile and it’s disingenuous." (Mountain Party candidate Bob Henry Baber)
"The campaign has largely been ‘Blah, blah, blah coal’ and ‘Blah, blah, blah Obama’, which I think has degenerated to not serving the public." (Libertarian Party candidate John Buckley)
Thank-you for stating the obvious.
Update II (October 19) - Phil Gabler in this morning's Charleston Gazette-Mail offers a similar analysis to my 10/14 post as to why Capito was a no-show.
The reality is, debates these days are generally snooze-fests with candidates sticking to their well-rehearsed talking points. Ever since President Gerald Ford declared in a 1976 debate that there was no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, the only real newsworthiness of a debate is if a candidate makes a major gaffe or glaring misstatement.
If you don’t debate, you can’t slip up. Case closed.
And not that it was expected but our Sunday "newspaper" had nothing to say about either the debate or Capito's absence.