This past Tuesday the Democrats rode the wake of the increasingly scandal riddled Republican leadership and won three big victories in an off-season voting year. The races I am talking about are the Virginia governorâ€™s race, the California ballot initiatives, and the Dover, Pennsylvania school board election. Many analysts are shying away from calling this a serious defeat for the Republicans, all except for the Republicans themselves who have been nervously eyeing their sinking poll numbers.
In October of 2004 the Dover, Pennsylvania School Board ruled that a statement should be read in all ninth grade biology classes before evolution was taught which put forward â€œIntelligent Designâ€ as a valid alternative and claimed that evolution was an unproven hypothesis. A parentâ€™s group sued the school district to bar the reading of the statement claiming that it was respecting a single religious institution, a court case over the separation of church and state ended just a couple weeks ago and a decision on it is expected in January.
But this past election may very well end that court battle even before it is decided, as eight members of the parentâ€™s organization that sued the school board beat the all Republican school board in a land-slide victory. Oddly one of the beaten school board members who got the fewest number of votes plans on challenging the entire election. This though is not a singular event as there is similar evolution vs. creationism fights going on all across the country. This election though represents the first time an entire school board was ousted over this decision, what makes it most surprising is that it happened in a traditionally conservative suburban district.
More surprising though was the resounding defeat of the Arnold â€œThe Governatorâ€ Schwarzeneggerâ€™s four ballot initiatives in California. After placing all his political capital behind these initiatives, which would have recreated California politics if they had passed, Arnoldâ€™s outlook for a second term are looking less and less likely. The four initiatives would have taken redistricting out of the state legislatureâ€™s control and put it in the governorâ€™s control, increased the period of time teachers have to work before getting tenure, put a cap on government worker salaries, and all but eliminated the use of union dues in political contributions. Arnold called these political reforms, but in essence they were attacks on Democratic supremacy in the traditionally liberal state by allowing the governor to jerrymander districts and cripple Democratic fundraising.
After spending $50 million in taxpayer money to press these propositions the governor finds himself in a place similar to his predecessor. Though since he is up for re-election in 2006 it is unlikely that we will see a push to recall him before then. His risky attack against one of the foundations of Democratic fundraising was met with a backlash that will likely follow him to next year and prove true his most recently picked up moniker, â€œThe one-term-inatorâ€
That brings me to my old home state of Virginia, which is the most important of the three races in my opinion. Not just because the Democratic Lieutenant Governor beat the Republican Attorney General for the governorâ€™s mansionâ€¦ but because of the way the election was won. The Democrat, Tim Kaine, ran a campaign based on being a man of faith who would continue the programs of the obscenely popular Governor Warner who was leaving office because of Virginia term limits. He ran a campaign concentrating on the issues, and stayed above the fray of mudslinging politics.
As the campaign continued and Kaine narrowed the gap, the Republican candidate, Jerry Kilgore, enlisted the help of Scott Howell, the infamous creator of the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth. Howell in his usual hyperbolic style created an ad campaign that attacked Kaineâ€™s stance against capital punishment, which is based on Kaineâ€™s faith as a Roman Catholic. The specific ad that was used charged that Kaine would not have had Hitler executed for his war crimes. Apparently Howell has never heard of Godwin as all this did was turn the race from a neck and neck tie to giving a Kaine a slight lead.
In the homestretch of the race President Bush went to Virginia to rally more support for Kilgoreâ€¦ a tactic that ended up pushing down Kilgoreâ€™s numbers even lower in the day before the polls actually opened. As a result Kaine won the governorship by a comfortable margin. This has also catapulted Governor Mark Warner into the fray as a viable Presidential candidate for 2008 by pushing him and what he has done for Virginia into the national spotlight.
These races though do not represent the strength of the Democrats going into the 2006 election cycle as much as they represent the weakness of the Republicans. The Republicans were unable to put forth a coherent campaign to shore up Governor Schwarzeneggerâ€™s propositions in California, and have now lost the best hope for winning a few seats there. The Republicans were unable to protect one of their ideological wedge issues in a suburban district, and will likely be inspiring other challenges. And not even the President and the best smearmeister the Republicans have to offer were able to get a governor elected in a red southern state.
The string of scandals attached to the Republican leadership, the Iraq war, and the still sluggish economic outlook for the majority of the populace has made the Republicans a weak target. Now all the Democrats need to do it is form their message for 2006 and they will find little resistance from the wounded Republican party.