Posted by: Jeff | November 2, 2010

Jeff’s Mid-Term Elections Primer

On the off chance that anyone cares — and if you haven’t already been disillusioned by my earlier post on why voting actually isn’t that important — here’s what I’ll be paying attention to this evening. All the links are to Nate Silver’s predictions and analysis in The New York Times, but you can stop by as well. I’ll be watching the returns from The Times’ results section. And of course there’s Pollster for examining the trends up to this point. Have fun.

1) The Bellwethers

Consider this me killing two birds with one stone by helping you guys out and plugging my own work at the same time. My latest job in DC has been producing a series of web videos for Mike Tomasky at The Guardian, and some of the latest videos deal with which House and Senate races he thinks will serve as indicators for the night’s overall trends. Electoral handicapping isn’t my bag, so outsourcing to Mike seems as good an idea as any.

All eight seats are currently held by Democrats, and all eight races are pretty tight. So which way they start falling as tonight proceeds will probably tell us how the fates of the Republicans and Democrats will shake out.

The Senate

The House

2) The Freakshow

As a simple sociological matter, I’m curious as to whether American voters really will, at the end of the day, go in for some of the more extreme elements the Republican Party has nominated this year. So I’ll be keeping an eye on:

3) The Future of Congressional Districts

Every ten years, we redraw the borders of our congressional districts. This has become the process by which both parties and their incumbents have entrenched their power and made the results of most House races a foregone conclusion. (Arguably, Republicans have been able to win more seats in the House than is proportional to their popularity because of how ruthlessly they’ve exploited this process in the past.) We just completed another census, so we’re due for another redraw this coming year. And since the decisions occur on a state-by-state basis, how control of governorships and state legislatures shakes out tonight will be of central importance.

Some major states to watch on that score are Texas, California, Pennsylvania, and Florida, just to name a few.

5) Texas and California

I’ve lived there, I care. Texas interests me in particular, both because it’s my home state and because I think it’s in the middle of massive demographic shifts that could remake the state’s political character within the decade.

Texas has a governor’s race, which is leaning Republican. California has a Senate race and a governor’s race, both of which are leaning Democratic. That Barbara Boxer is looking like she’ll survive is at least one indicator that bodes well for the Democrats, I think.

6) Other Odds and Ends

Several California propositions are worth watching:

  • Prop. 19 — Would legalize marijuana under state law.
  • Prop. 23 — Would kill California’s cap-and-trade law. This one may be something of a bellwether for how far the American public is willing to go to combat global warming.
  • Prop. 25 — Would make only a simple majority in the state legislature necessary to pass a budget. Currently, pretty much all of the state’s fiscal policy — budgets, borrowing money, raising taxes, etc. — requires a two-thrids vote to pass. This renders the state sclerotic and incapable of addressing its problems, and is arguably the key reason California is in such a dreadful economic mess. This proposition would be a crucial first step towards changing that.
  • Prop. 27 & Prop. 20 — Would both alter how California draws its congressional districts (see 3 above) but I’m not sure about their merits. So I’ll avoid pontification.

These last three bits are races I’ve already mentioned, but that I’m paying attention to for other reasons as well:

  • I think Harry Reid has done quite well in the exceedingly thankless role of Senate majority leader. He deserves to pull through in his race against Sharron Angle for the Nevada Senate seat, and I hope he does. (Though I have it on good authority that Chuck Schumer was born to lead the Democrats in the Senate, and he’ll assume the post if Reid gets the boot by Nevada voters.)
  • Russ Feingold has been an outspoken progressive staple in the Senate for years, and the fact that he’s now facing a serious threat from Tea-Party-style Republican Ron Johnson is weird to say the least. So this one’s also of interest for that reason.
  • Finally, there’s the madness involving Lisa Murkowski and Joe Miller in Alaska. Murkowski is no bag of fun, but she’s pretty moderate in comparison to Miller. And her decision to run a write-in campaign after losing the Republican primary showed some striking orneriness.

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