United States History: Elections--21st Century

Figure 1.--

The United States began the 21st century with a deeply divided electorate, between conservatives and liberals. As usual the elections were decided by the independent voters, but they were roughly equally divided between the two parties. The 2000 and 2004 elections won by President Bush were probably decided more on personality and character issues than ideology. The 2008 election began as a referendum on the Iraq War, but was finally decided by the downward spiral in the American economy in September. Many commentators speculate that the 2008 election was one of the watershed elections that set the politics of a generation. This could be true, but will largely be determined by President Obama's performance in office.

2000 Presidential Election

Govenor George W. Bush of Texas was the son of President George H.W. Bush. Raised in Texas he ran against popular Govenor Anne Richardson and defeated her. He won the Republican nomination after a bruising primary campaign with Senator John McCain. The Democrats niminated Vice President Albert Gore who had little primary oposition. The Vice President was hurt by the scandals of the Clinton presidency, especially the relevations concerning Monika Lewinsky. The Vice President had nothing to do with the Clinton scandals. The Vice President had an exempliry family life. Unfortunately for him, he suffereed as a part of the administration. The voters did not want Clinton impeached, but they were clearly unhappy with his behavior. It turned out to be a remarably close election. It is difficult to say what most hurt the Vice President, but he seems to have left a lingering image that he was not to be trusted, in paet because of a series of minor mistatements. He also had a strangely wooden image for a politican. American elections are generally not settled on ideologyy or issues, but rather personality. The Governor appeared a much more personable candidate whose personality resonates well on television. That said, the Vice President did slightly out poll Govenor Bush in the popular vote, while Bush won in the all important Electoral College.

2004 Presidential Election

The economy dominated the 2004 election. The continuing violence in Iraq was an increasing concern in 2004, but had not yet become the dominant issue of the election. President Bush had inherited an economic down turn after the collapse of the dot-com bubble. His answer was tax cuts. The economy resonded positively. The Democrats charged that the economic gains were tepid and like tge tax cuts not equally shared by all. Against that back drop, the Republicans nominated President Bush without serious opposition. The Democratic nomination was contested by several candidates. Vice President Gore decided not to run. Govenor Howard Dean of Vermont was an early leader, but he did not farw well in the primaries. Senator John Kerry with an impressive war record did do well in the polls and won the nomination. The campaign was fought over the basic liberal-conservative split. Senator Kerry was hurt when it was found that his war records had been exgerated and that as a young politican he had thrown away his medals and lied about arrtocities reportedly commied in Viet Nam by the United States. Just before the election, CBS News aired an expose on President Bush charging that he used his family's position to avoid service in Viet Nam. A major new network would have been expected to carefully examine their evidence, especially when making politically explosive charges just before an election. Within days, novice bloggers on the internet proved that the CBS evidence was in fact amateruish forgeries. In another close vote, President Bush won the election.

2008 Presidential Election

It looked like the 2008 election would be a referendum on the Iraq War. Iraq dominated the primaries, but issues of economic equity and foreign trade were also became important. Senator Hilory Clinto, wife of the former president was the Democratic front runner, but Senator Barak Obama of Illinois who had been an early opponent of the Iraq War emerged as a leading candidate after his surprise victory in the Iowa campaign. As a result of a campaign which placed a substantial emphasis on the caucus states, he built up a lead in the delgte count that could be not overcome by Senator Clinton's victories in the large state primaries. Relevations of Senator Obama's association with anti-American views adversely affected his vote tally in several primaries. The increasing left-leaning national media either ignored theserelevations or dismissed them as unimportnt. The Democratic Convention in an historic action enthusiastically nominated Senator Obama, the first Afroo-American nominee of a major party. The Republican nomination was also hotly contested. Former New York Mayor Rudolf Juliani was aeading candidate. Massachusettes Governor Mick Romney and Senator McCain also vied for the nomination. Former Arkansas Govenor Mike Huckabee, largely unknown on the national level ran a surprisingly strong primary campaign. Finally Senator McCain emerged as the winner in the primaries and was nominated at the Convention. He chose another the largely unknown Govenor of Alaska, Sara Palin to run as his vice-presidential campaign. Against all expectations, the success of President Bush's surge iniitiative removed the Iraq War as the dominate issue. Rissing oil prices became a major issue, but the dominante issue of the campaign emerged in September when the stock market began a portracted punge and serious financial problems began to develop. Had this not occurred, the election would have been very close. Frightened by the financial collapse, the voters turned to the attractive Illinois senator.

2010 Congressional By-election

The 2010 election ocuurred in a time of economic uncertainty and unemployment near 10 percent. Strangely the Democrats who under President Obama enacted several pieces of lndmark legislation (stimulus, Onamacare, and financial reform) did not run on their record. In fact many Democratic candidates ran away from the President and his achievemnents or even stressed their distance from him. We do not know a Congressional by-election in American history when a party's Congressional candidates tried so hard to distance themselves from their president. This was not even the case oh the Hoover (1930) and Nixon (1974) by-elections. Such a development is almost incomprehensible given the hoopla associated with President Obama's election and his broad coat tails which brought many new Democratic congressmen and senators to Washington. Rather than running on the President;s achievements, most Democratic candidates chose to localize the campaign, running personal campaigns against their opponents. Another major Democratic fosted by the President were charges of large amounts of business and unsubstantiated rumors of foreign money being used by the Republicans, even though the Democrats outspent the Republicans. The economy was not the only majpor issue in the elections. The other major factor was the emergency of thge Tea Party. This is probably the most authentic ground roots political movement in American political history. The main-stream media which often congratulates itself on political punditrty completely missed the importance of the Tea Party, dismissing them as Tea Baggers and racists. Speaker Polozzi insisted the movement was political stroturf--meaning not a real political movement. The Tea Party emerged as a diverse movement, but as it developed there were three core beliefs: belief in 1) the Constitution, 2) free-market capitalism, and 3) limited goverment--stressing the need to reduce the role, size, and cost of government. And a decesion of emense importance was that the Tea Party decided to work within the Republican Party rather than form a third party movement. The results of the 2010 election were a staggering rebuke to President Obama and the Democrats, perhaps the most staggering such rebuke in American political history. That rebuke was felt at all levels of Government. The publican gain in the Senate was only slightly above mid-term elections--6 seats. All six were carved out of middle-America, especially the industrial mid-West. The House results was a very different matter. The final count is not yet determined, but seems to about 60 seats. This is a magnitude off the charts in American election history. The only comparable by-election was in 1946 when the Republicans won 54 House sears and 11 Senate seats. The Republicans also achieved huge gains in the state racers for govenors and legislatures. President Obama in his press conference following the election (November 3) continued go insist that the results were due to economic factors. This is surely partly true, but he continues to believe that desire to limit government was not an important factor. The reason is of course idelogical. His left-wing policies can be excused for not having enough time to work, But limiting government strikes at the hear of the big-government solutions he champions. While stunning, there is one quesrtuin left unanswered. What will the results be in 2012 when the President heads the ticket for his reelection. Thus while broadly based, we do not yet know how permanent the Republican gains will be. President Obama believes that the voter's reacted out of fear and misleading information perveied by the Republicans, business, the Tea Party, and Fox News. He now has 2 years to reconnect with the American voters and convince them his policies were the correct ones. There is no indication that that he is prepared to change his policies. There are, however, 10 Democratic senators in states that went Republican that face reelection in 2012. They will be a powerful force in shaping the Democratic agenda.


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Created: 5:05 AM 5/7/2009
Last updated: 7:00 PM 11/3/2010