Democrats vs Republicans: Poll Performance in 17 Most Important States (Part I)

Analysts typically rely on polling and examine key districts to determine how the swing states will fall come November. Yet, what impact does the image and organizational power of the local party have on mobilizing voters and attracting them to vote Democrat or Republican? Using Google search and pouring over local political blogs, I will try to classify the type of state parties, as devised by Politico’s Charles Mahtesian, into four categories: (1) Functional, with outstanding leadership (2) Functional, with ineffective leadership (3) Basket cases marked by a lack of cash and candidates and (4) Basket cases that function like circus sideshows. For brevity, the article will try to focus on the party that is screwing things up and handing the election to the opposition. With this we will get an idea of how local politics will change come November and where efforts by the Presidential campaigns may over and underperform.

1) Arizona: Democrats Functional, with Ineffective Leadership

The Democrats have reformed party operations since its 2010 losses, increasing the number of activists it can mobilize and its fundraising efforts, and scored big recently keeping former Rep. Gabrielle Gifford’s seat. Unfortunately, it has also lost 52,000 voters over the last year while the Republicans gained 14,000, giving them a 6% edge in the total number of registered voters. The current leadership is also drawing heat for trying to manipulate primaries and stifle activist voices. The party is also under attack for one of its congressional member’s pork-barrel spending, as well as for the exorbitant costs they are charging the state to sue Sheriff Joe Arpaio (now perhaps the state’s foremost birther) and former County Attorney for their efforts on immigration. On that subject, the Arizona Republican Party as a whole is being accused of focusing too much on immigration rather than jobs, which caused their senate president to lose a recall election and became even more prominent after one of the party’s popular sheriffs was said to be abusing his power by threatening to deport a Mexican ex-boyfriend. The focus of the last legislative session on restricting abortion, loosening gun restrictions, and tax breaks also has liberals up in arms. Unfortunately for them, this simply hasn’t made much of a dent in the GOP’s poll numbers, and Democratic success in November will be less due to organizational prowess than for simply being on the right side of immigration reform during a demographic surge of Hispanic voters.

2) Indiana: Democratic Basket Case, without Cash

Some have been calling Indiana a swing state because President Obama narrowly won it in 2008. You certainly wouldn’t guess it by the state of the local Democratic Party today. The local party has been doing poorly since 2004 despite some of the best political years liberals have seen in ages, and will not likely assume more power in the near future given that Republicans have redrawn the districts since the census to bolster their power. To make matters worse, the Democrats botched the execution of replacing its party chairman, creating a great deal of discord that undermined the authority of gubernatorial candidate John Gregg. The party is sadly reduced to trying to win over moderate Republicans in order to win November. They did have one lucky break in Governor Mitch Daniels’ decision to resign from partisan politics to become president of Purdue university, denying GOP candidates a popular supporter and fundraiser for their campaigns, but likely won’t change the outcome of November much. Obama isn’t going to pull a win here.

3) Iowa: GOP Functional, with Ineffective Leadership

In Iowa, the Democrats control the Senate and the Republicans the House. Unfortunately for the GOP, while they’ve gained a 20,000 voter edge in the registration rolls they’ve seen fundraising fall off as Ron Paul supporters slowly gained control over the party, finally replacing the state party chair and other key officials. The state convention saw further bickering between the social conservative and Ron Paul factions as the latter swept the national convention delegates. This has demoralized many in the party and will have an impact on the party’s ability to effectively spread its message and mobilize voters. Even though the odds are long that the Dems will take the House, the GOP in Iowa elected more conservative candidates this primary season like in most places, and will need all the help it can get. There is already talk that the Romney campaign will go around the party, an act which may cause problems down-ticket if the campaign decides to focus energy elsewhere and will probably further alienate the social conservative base that already hates him.   

4) Colorado: GOP and Democrats Functional, but with Ineffective Leadership

The Democratic Party is not well led under Chairman Rick Palacio, who wasted a great deal of credibility launching a failed recall election against Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler, and has failed to recruit top candidates, raise funds, and serve as an effective party messenger. As a result, the state GOP has been doing well in fundraising and has 120,000 more voters on the rolls than their Democratic counterparts. Conversely, the GOP under House Speaker Frank McNulty have greatly mishandled various issues this legislative session, such as needlessly sitting on bill that would have resolved local government investment issues, resisting calls for civil unions despite large public support, causing intra-party conflict over a drunk driving scandal, and losing a reapportionment battle that made legislative districts more competitive, among others. This last one is particularly bad as the party has been electing extremists lately in the primaries, which will throw additional seats to Democrats. This wave of bad news will likely help Democrats overcome their limitations and retake the state House and Senate this year, which the GOP only barely won in 2010. It remains to be seen if President Obama will ride their coattails. 

5) Florida: Democratic Basket Case, without the Cash and Candidates

Despite having over 500,000 more people on the voter rolls than the GOP, Democratic Party of Florida performance is underwhelming. Local Democrats made a poor strategic choice years ago to focus on top-of-the-ticket races over local ones, which slowly degraded the party’s ability to recruit candidates, fundraise, and maintain its professionalism. Consequently, the GOP dominates the statehouse, has raked in far more money this cycle, and has used its power to gerrymander the districts and continue their dominance for another decade. The Democrats have finally changed their ways, but is unlikely to fully capitalize on the GOP’s deeply unpopular governor, its internal rifts between establishment and tea-party factions, and unstable party leadership that has already brought about a number of financial scandals.

6) Maine: Democrats and GOP Functional, but with Ineffective Leadership

The Democrats have a lot of targets to shoot at in Maine. The GOP swept into control over the statehouse and governor’s seat in 2010 and the political culture has become increasingly contentious ever since. Governor Paul LePage’s reckless rhetoric makes even his allies cringe; he has refused to sign numerous bonding measures proposed by his own party, and has led such a controversial legislative session that he is already cutting into the party’s odds this November. To make matters worse, internal schisms with the libertarian and Tea Party factions have only grown since 2010, angering many and dividing the party when it least needs it, likely costing it outgoing Senator Olympia Snowe’s seat. The Democratic Party has a good ground operation resulting from a successful ballot effort to repeal restrictions on same-day voter registration, but is lacking broader organizational capacity due to its over-reliance on individual personalities over messaging. The Dems may reclaim the House this year, but the rest is up in the air.  

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John Doble

John is a political junkie and a native of Minnesota. His primary interests are politics, history, and neoclassical moral education. He has previously interned at the Truman National Security Project, the Stimson Center, both houses of Congress, and for the Governor of Wisconsin. John has an M.A. in International Affairs from American University and a B.A. in Political Science and History from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Any views expressed here are his alone.

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