Lincoln * Institute

Lowman S. Henry

Lowman S. Henry

Chairman & CEO
Lincoln Institute
of Public Opinion Research

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Town Hall Commentary

A Transformational Election

by Lowman S. Henry
 

Although Labor Day is traditionally seen as the kick-off of the General Election campaign season, the long process of state primaries will continue well into September. The primaries held to date have validated the TEA Party as a political force and have set the stage for what could be a transformational election in November.

Few election cycles are truly transformational. Gerrymandering and a wide array of perks and staff services enjoyed by Congressional incumbents of both political parties mean few districts are competitive. That has yielded long periods of control for the party in power and few seismic shifts in policy.

But 2010 is different on both fronts. The general mood of the country was established last January with the election of Scott Brown to the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts. By winning the seat long held by liberal lion Ted Kennedy, Brown's victory signaled that the political climate had changed. The primaries which have been held since that special election have upended conventional wisdom within both political parties as the power of incumbency morphed into the curse of incumbency.

After having run a near flawless campaign for the White House, President Barack Obama and his team this year have profoundly misread the mood of the electorate. Enactment of health care reform may have been a major legislative victory for Obama, but it came at a political cost which he both misunderstood and underestimated. A significant majority of Americans opposed the president's "reforms," and they have neither forgotten nor forgiven the fact it was jammed down their throats. The White House banked on that fervor abating. It has not, and now dozens of congressional Democrats in marginal districts appear destined to pay the price.

November 2nd is shaping up as a blood bath for Democrats. Independent analysts, pollsters and academics virtually all agree Republicans will make major gains in both houses. It is likely the GOP will reclaim control of the House of Representatives. State-by-state polling shows that even in the Senate, where Republicans must gain 10 seats to return to power, a change in party control is possible.

A less visible, but equally dramatic power shift has occurred within the Republican Party. As the primary election season has progressed voters have signaled their dissatisfaction with the GOP establishment as well. This has resulted in an impressive string of victories for candidates supported by the TEA Party, or at least candidates who previously were considered outside the mainstream.

Here in Pennsylvania, former Congressman Pat Toomey's challenge of long-time incumbent U.S. Senator Arlen Specter was so strong Specter actually bolted to the Democratic Party — only to lose in the primary to ultra-liberal Congressman Joe Sestak. Toomey, former head of the free market Club for Growth, was anathema to the state's GOP establishment. But now, sporting an average 9-point lead in the polls, Toomey enjoys the united support of Republican insiders as well as the conservative base that propelled his ascendancy.

The Toomey story is hardly unique this year. In state after state conservative Republicans — often with TEA Party backing — have upended establishment candidates. Like Toomey, Marco Rubio in Florida chased a formerly popular GOP powerhouse out of the U.S. Senate race. Governor Charlie Crist is now running as an independent in a three-way race. Sharron Angle in Nevada bested several better-known establishment candidates to claim her nomination to challenge Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. U.S. Senator Bob Bennett of Utah was considered a stalwart conservative, but he strayed on several key votes and was booted by Mike Lee who has a virtual lock on the November election. In Kentucky Rand Paul, son of Libertarian icon Ron Paul prevailed in a race to succeed retiring Senator Jim Bunning. Most recently in Alaska, TEA Party and Sarah Palin-backed Joe Miller squeaked by Lisa Murkowski in that state's primary.

Each of these candidates has a better than even chance of winning in November. They, and possibly several others, will form the core of an energized conservative caucus within the Senate GOP. Further, they are young, telegenic, and brimming with new ideas. This will become the policy incubator which will power the Republican Party's attempt to reclaim the White House in 2012.

And the nation is looking for new ideas. President Obama's "summer of recovery" has turned into the "summer of rebound recession." It is clear the soft European-style socialism he employed has — predictably -- failed. With unemployment stubbornly high, the markets stagnant and capital sitting on the sidelines, the country is looking for a new way forward. And the developing conservative core of the U.S. Senate will provide the free market solutions needed to get America moving again.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.