Friday, March 8, 2013

Beyond the Threshold

Quick important, if a bit basic, point this morning.

National Journal's Elahe Izadi tweeted her story about Ashley Judd with "If Ashley Judd does indeed run for Senate, she could learn a lesson or two from Al Franken. She may already be." To which Dave Weigel responded: "Lesson 1: Run in blue state."

Now, to be fair to Izadi, who did in fact cover that in her perfectly fine story. And candidates do matter in Senate (and lower-ballot) contests. Unlike presidential elections, where the out-party candidate is always treated as a serious potential president, lower-ballot races can basically dissolve into automatic re-election walkovers for incumbents if the challenger doesn't achieve some sort of threshold of serious campaigning. So Izadi didn't do anything wrong here; quite the contrary.

But I still like Weigel's comment, because it's just so easy for people to treat elections as if they were sports events talking place on a level playing field, with the key factors in winning coming down to the candidate and the campaign. Moreover, there's an expectation within the political culture that elections should come down to those things, especially if it translates into a contest of issues.

A huge amount of what a lot of us did during this last election cycle was just to nudge people away from that.  And, you know, on one level, I think everyone perfectly well realizes that partisan advantage is real and perfectly okay, or that retrospective voting based on the state of the economy is real and perfectly okay.

And then it gets trickier...everyone knows and accepts that partisan advantage in House districts is real, but not everyone sees the case why it can be a very good thing (two arguments for it: keeping communities of interest together, which many people think is a good thing, will yield partisan advantage if people within the same community of interest share partisan tendencies; also, there's a case to be made in favor of the clear fact that lopsided partisan districts mean that more people like their own Member of the House and feel well-represented by her).

Anyway, no other larger point here, just a reminder that we shouldn't think of elections as conducted on level playing fields (in that sense; we should generally want procedural fairness), and we shouldn't be bothered when they aren't.


  1. "also, there's a case to be made in favor of the clear fact that lopsided partisan districts mean that more people like their own Member of the House and feel well-represented by her"

    Buchler and Brunell have both been making this point for the last few years.

    Of course, the less said about Buchler, the better.

  2. Granted, it's not a level playing field. Mitch McConnell just isn't nearly as appealing or charismatic as Ashley Judd. Also, of course, not as famous. I still think he has a chance, though.

  3. Judd seems like a pretty attractive candidate because of Kentucky's red tilt. There's not a huge bench of Democrats there, and most of them are more interested in state office anyway; she can self-fund to a degree as well as raise money on a different level and from different sources thanks to her celebrity; and she can probably get away with being more liberal than your average Kentucky Democrat. I think McConnell is still the favorite, but I also see very little downside - for Judd or Democrats in general -- in a Judd candidacy.

  4. I'm going to have to cry foul here. Sure Minnesota is a "blue state" in terms of presidential elections, but not at all in terms of state politics. Mark Dayton was the first Democratic governor elected in 2010 in 20+ years, the same year that Jim Oberstar a 30 year incumbent in Congress was beaten by tea party hero Chip Cravaack AND both houses of the state legislature went to the GOP. In Democratic banner year 2006 Democrat Tim Walz (a high school history teacher) beat long term GOP Congressman Gil Gutknecht in a rural district WHILE Tim Pawlenty was re-elected governor.

    And in 2008 Obama won the state in a landslide and Al Franken won by 312 votes, so I don't how many "lessons" he has to teach.

  5. Those last two comments exemplify why I come around to read the comments here, as well as the posts.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Who links to my website?