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Simple Math; Hard Politics

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In the wake of the Democratic and Republican primaries in a few states, the way the talking heads in the mainstream media are spinning it the Democratic Party and President Barack Obama are the big losers. The Republican Party will win the November 2010 mid-term elections and the Tea Party Movement is the new "American Third Political Way." The primary they are saying was a limited referendum on President Obama's agenda and demonstrated the fact that he and the Democratic Party now face an uphill re-election battle. The GOP, they claim is on the rebound and is now well poised to win the November elections and take back both the House and Senate.

That's wishful thinking at best, and at worst it demonstrates the deliberate Republican tactic of declaring victory long before it happens. This is designed to suppress Democratic voter turn out and increase voter apathy and disillusionment. I say this because there are differences between primary and general elections so predicting victory after a primary is won is just so much spin and hot political air.

First and foremost the recent elections were closed primary events. What this means is that they were contested only by registered voters from both political parties. Thus, Democrats voted in Democratic Primary elections and Republicans in Republican Primaries. Next, what is required to win a primary election is sometimes the extreme opposite of what is necessary to win a general election. Sometimes a strong primary can be a very weak general election candidate or the opposite can be the case.

Unlike closed party primaries, general elections include all registered voters including registered independents that often turn out to be swing voters who decide the outcome of the elections. The political math is simple Democrats often tend to vote for Democrats in general elections and Republicans do the same for their candidates. The margin of victory is usually who can best persuade independents that often make up the large pool of undecided voters to "swing" either the Republican or Democratic way.

Moreover, some contested primaries always favor insurgent candidates especially when there is significant voter anger and dissatisfaction over local and national issues. In Arkansas Democrat Blanche Lincoln is in some trouble from the Democratic Left of her own party and the fact that the national anti-incumbent climate is not making re-election easy this time around. Her challenge is how to woo the party's left flank in a way that makes it possible for her to get a plurality of the votes while at he same time doing the same with the centrists and right wing of the Democratic Party.

In Kentucky Rand Paul's victory was not simply the result of agitation by the Tea Party Movement but of a desire by voters to try a "clean" candidate unencumbered by the baggage of both traditional parties. That and the public anger at Washington politicians seen as having failed the American people in a big way. Paul's candidacy was opportune and ripe for the moment and he tapped into the Tea Party's platform that resonated in a state that is very conservative and religious. So in the end his victory was no major upset and he's going to have a very hard general election.

For both the Democratic and Republican parties closed primaries achieve two key things. One is that they present an opportunity for party members to renew support for and define their respective parties by giving this or that candidate a mandate limited though that is. Two, both parties get to pick the candidate that they think can win against each other in a general election contest. The combination of these two factors demonstrates and test party loyalty going into a general election.

This allows both parties to target that undecided constituency to secure victory. That's why primaries don't always indicate how a candidate will fare in a general election even in states overwhelmingly Republican or Democratic. So beyond the hype, spin and declarations of victory in November both parties are simply using positioning strategy to prep voters to veer towards either party.

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Thing is November is still a long way off in political terms and anything can happen. I would not write off President Obama and the Democrats as the Republican-controlled media is doing. The president is a savvy new-age politician and he's demonstrated that he can marry modern technology with mass populist techniques that are needed to win in 21st century elections. Herein lies the weakness of the Tea Party Movement and the Republican Party.

If President Obama and the Democrats pick an issue say immigration and throw down the gauntlet at the Republicans while mobilizing the president's support base then the Republicans will lose because of the party's inflexible, dogmatic posture. President Obama's handlers learned from the Massachusetts lesson by largely staying away from the primary fray. Republicans tried their best to draw him into what was and is local state political contests. His star power and formidable political skills will be needed in the run up to the November mid-term elections when he will have to campaign and work to keep his majority in Congress.

The Democratic Party has to consolidate its majority by keeping and holding on to its present number of sets while targeting weak Republican seats to bring into their column. Of course, the Republicans will be doing the same. The Democrats' edge is the charismatic, handsome US president who is also a gifted orator. He is a consummate political salesman and the Democratic Party must use him effectively.

The president will have to tell not the Democrats that vote but the large independent columns and new voters that keeping the Democrats in power is the right thing to do and why. He's going to have to sell his agenda to this voting block and not waste his energy and resources by energizing Republicans or preaching to the Democratic faithful. The mid-term elections will be decided not by the appeal of the candidates and their messages but by which party does the best job of convincing the undecided's and the independents to buy into their agenda.

So all the talk about Rand Paul and the Tea Party Movement, Blanche Lincoln and Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania is just that talk. The Tea Party Movement and Sarah Palin can attack President Obama all they want or the Democrats can do likewise in a never-ending spiral of spin, counter-spin, demonizing and counter-demonizing and all that makes for is great television. To win in November the math is simple: energize your base, suppress your opposition turnout and bring out the undecided and independents in large numbers.

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While the math is simple enough the devil is in the details getting it done is going to be a heck of a challenge.

 

MICHAEL D. ROBERTS is a top Political Strategist and Business, Management and Communications Specialist in New York City's Black community. He is an experienced writer whose specialty is socio-political and economic analysis and local (more...)
 

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