Former Democratic house speaker Tip O’Neill famously said that “all politics is local.” But local candidates ignoring the effect of national elections on their own campaigns do so at their electoral peril.
A win by one party nationally doesn’t automatically mean local election losses by the opposition party the next year. But if national election losses are significant and meaningful to the point they change the political landscape and climate, they can indeed affect the next local election. We might be in one of these times.
Huge losses can also have a devastating effect on the morale of grassroots campaign workers. After all, volunteers usually get involved in local politics because of their interest in national issues.
Elections are often decided by who comes out to vote. The first rule of a winning election strategy is being able to get out your base. It’s an ominous sign when there’s deep division and discord within a political party. A depressed or disappointed party membership can be detrimental to its success in future elections.
Who can vote in primaries, set at the state level, is also very important. An open primary is one where a voter in a political party primary doesn’t need to be a registered member of the party holding the primary. A closed primary is one where only registered party members can vote.
The Democratic disaster of 1980
When lopsided national election outcomes are forecast, such as in the presidential election of 1980, denial sets in. So it was for those Saugertiesians watching their presidential candidate’s polling graph spiral downward.
“Disregard the polls. Voters will suddenly see the light on Election Day.” Such was the hope of Saugerties Democratic committeemen and supporters back then.
It’s that optimism that keeps committed supporters engaged in the long election process. They keep the faith, no matter how bleak the prognosis by professional prognosticators, and pollsters.
All eyes were fixed on the 19-inch TV screen on 9W’s Flamingo Restaurant that Tuesday evening 36 years ago. After 9 p.m., with results coming in, the picture quickly became clear.
Senate losses for Democrats started on the East Coast, where New Hampshire’s John Durkin fell. By the end of the evening, losses had spread across the mid-country to the Pacific Coast, where six-term senator Warren Magnuson of Washington state went down to defeat. Gone also were Frank Church of Idaho and Birch Bayh of Indiana. Republicans had gained control of the Senate for the first time since 1953.
It was a landslide. Democratic 1972 presidential standard-bearer senator George McGovern of South Dakota went down to humiliating defeat. Ronald Regan carried 44 states with a total of 489 of the 538 electoral votes.
The 1980 election resulted in the loss of the Democratic Party’s most stalwart liberals.
One year later, during the Saugerties local election, the Democrats did badly. Georgette Hughes was the only winner on the Democratic line. Her win for the position of receiver of taxes was credited to her tenacity. She was able to overcome what the other Saugerties Democratic candidates couldn’t in 1981, the impacts of the huge election losses on the national level the previous year had on the local picture in Saugerties.
Democrats spent years soul-searching. From 1968 to 1988 they lost five of the six presidential elections.
Local political party members and those in leadership positions sometimes need to talk and evaluate their party’s situation and help figure out how to right the ship. That’s what some Saugerties Democrats did back then tried that at an electoral post-mortem at the former Sacks Lodge.
The Saugerties Democrats began winning again late in the 1980s, much aided by the issue of the county trying to put a landfill on the Winston Farm, a Saugerties gateway.
How national affects local
The results of this November’s national election may give us clues as to what will happen in the 2017 local election, where seats including supervisor, town council and county legislature will be at stake. If Hillary Clinton convinces voters, in spite of her liabilities, that she has a steady hand, which worked for Barack Obama in 2008, and that Donald Trump is too risky, a tactic which helped gain Lyndon Johnson a landslide victory over Barry Goldwater in 1964, then some Republican fears that their party may be in for a crushing defeat may prove true.
Nationally, Senate Republicans now hold a 54-46 majority in that chamber. With 24 Republican-held Senate seats on the ballot in November and only ten Democratic seats, a tsunami may be ahead if the current outlook in the presidential campaign doesn’t change.
Republicans in the past were very good at limiting their internal strife in public discourse. That’s not the case this time. That phenomenon that may have far-reaching effects down-ballot.
Many Saugerties candidates have witnessed how an election result can be largely out of their control, with their own electoral fate largely resting on how their party and leadership were viewed in the national election the year before.
Open and closed primaries
After the November election, both major political parties are expected to take up the issue of open primaries. Democrats are likely to push for more open primaries after this election, since Bernie Sanders’ supporters favor open primaries.
Republicans may take a different view. Ted Cruz and other conservatives are likely to push for closed primaries. Non-Republicans voting in some Republicans primaries may have given Donald Trump his margin of victory in those primaries.
Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus has long favored closed primaries. He may get his wish for his party after this election, with more conservative members in the party supporting his view.
Sanders’ supporters have their motives. Sanders benefited during the Democratic primary elections because a majority of independent voters (those not registered in any party) supported him in open-primary states. Sanders did much better in open-primary states than on closed-primary states, where only registered Democrats could vote. Hillary Clinton won every Democratic closed primary.
The Democratic Iowa caucus, which Clinton barely won, was semi-open. Only registered Republicans couldn’t vote in it.
In New Hampshire’s open primary, Sanders trounced Clinton, 60% to 38%. Exit polling revealed independent voters heavily favored Sanders in the open primary.
The downside to open primaries? Non-Democrats voting in Democratic primaries and non-Republicans voting in Republican primaries dilute core principals held by their party officials, candidates, and elected representatives. Such may be the case even at the grassroots level.
Whether a primary is open or closed affects not just the national level but the local level as well. In a stunning 2014 upset, House majority leader Eric Cantor unexpectedly lost his congressional Republican primary in his Virginia district in an open primary.
I’m not suggesting Republicans should blame crossover voters for Cantor’s defeat. His loss has due to a host of reasons. Considering that primary elections often yield a small voter turnout, however, political mischief becomes plausible.
Imagine if our local primary elections allowed crossover voting, and Democrats, independents and others could vote in Republican contests. Or the other way around, where Republicans, Conservatives or independents could vote in Democratic races.
Adding money to the equation
Saugerties residents have been helping support their choice for president in this presidential election year.
Presidential candidate committees and PACs have been making filings of contributions received for the 2016 election to the Federal Election Commission. My review of the reports shows contributions from Saugerties residents reported through June 2016 as follows: Sanders $13,605, Clinton $6574; Trump $57. Yes, that’s fifty-seven dollars.
During the primary season Donald Trump talked about “self-funding” his campaign. Supporters didn’t contribute in any substantial amount, letting him do just that. People rarely give to political campaigns unless asked.
Trump has since changed his fundraising tune. His supporters have been making substantial contributions nationally in the month of July. It’s expected financial contributions from Saugerties supporters will increase during the next reporting period.