Tuesday, December 02, 2008

the georgia runoff

Saxby Chambliss, the Republican, has apparently won the Georgia Senate runoff with something like 60 percent of the vote, although this may decline as other precincts report. This means, among other things, that the Democrats will have a hard time getting to 60 Senate seats, although that may or may not matter much.

One might ask how someone who couldn't get 50 percent in the general election could win a runoff so easily. The answer, of course is turnout: apparently less than half that in November, effectively a different electorate than the Presidential election. Even if no one changed their mind in the intervening month--even if more people supported Obama--Chambliss would still have won, because so many of the Democrats stayed home.

The turnout issue presents an opportunity but also a serious danger for the Republican Party. I have described previously how Republicans in my own state, Pennsylvania, make low turnout an essential part of their strategy in local elections. If the same is true elsewhere, it is entirely possible that (say) the 2010 congressional elections could result in substantial Republican gains without a meaningful change in popular opinion. But the strategy has its downside, as well. Democrats are increasingly nationalizing local elections, and--while Georgia may be a step too far for them--they are unlikely to sit back and watch the same happen in a national contest. The strategy, if it can be called that, is also a poor recruiting tool. Who wants to belong to a Party whose best chance of winning is when people don't bother to vote?


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