Ball-watchers focus on prior results

I am alluding to the amateurish fixation that many pundits seem to have with narrow situations like the congressional contest in New York-23 or the gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey. No one is saying that you shouldn’t peek at the ball occasionally to follow races like this, but fixating on these few races as “the game” is layman’s folly. Even good, solid pundits like John Harwood are becoming ball-watchers. Harwood recently said after Dede Scozzafava suspended her New York-23 congressional campaign that it was” a sign that the leash that the base is holding on the party is tightening and that the Palins, the talk radio, Rush Limbaughs, the Fox, the definition of what is acceptable as a Republican, I think, is narrowing.”

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Surely the typically sensible Harwood cannot think that an oddball three-way race in New York’s wacky multiparty system provides us insight on Republican Party prospects nationally. Allowing this one strange contest to define an election cycle or a party’s viability is just bad punditry.

As a coach, I see a lot going on away from the ball that is more encouraging than the simpleminded notion that Sarah Palin has a leash on Republicans.

First, the number of experienced and savvy “walk-on” candidates who have chosen to seek office says that mature Republicans with judgment know they can run without the leash. Look at my longtime client, former Gov. Terry Branstad of Iowa, choosing to re-enter the fray after a decade off, in order set Iowa’s finances and economy straight again. Once again a gubernatorial candidate, Terry Branstad is his own man and wears no one’s collar. Just recently in Florida, a state Harwood knows well, longtime friend and state Sen. Paula Dockery announced she’s running for governor. Her staunch independent streak, evidenced by her willingness to stand up to legislative colleagues when she has disagreed, doesn’t quite fit with leash theory. I could go on identifying candidates who won’t be handled or tethered by special interests or media. Pundits should widen their field of view, and they’ll see that New York-23 is the outlier. Smart people sense that Republicans with a backbone are going to do well next year.

The pundits should also try to look at the Democrats’ defensive set, too. They seem to be playing back on their heels and getting fatigued from pulling on the leash that their own base has around their necks, as well as the pounding they are getting from opponents per healthcare, debt and foreign policy. Make no mistake in understanding the situation today. The Democrats are in the spotlight. They are the No. 1 team and everyone is gunning for them.

The Republicans face no such pressure. This larger-playing-field context bodes well for Republicans. When voters tell me that their state or the nation is headed in the wrong direction, they are more often than not saying they want a change, and more often than not that would be electing a Republican.

Yesterday’s results are interesting, but not as important as the ball-watchers will claim. Every good coach knows that a single game doesn’t make a whole season. Pundits should too.

David Hill is a member of the research faculty at Auburn University and has been a Republican pollster since 1984.