Wednesday, September 8, 2021

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Early Critical Mass

The political cliches about commenting on and predicting

future elections which are many months away don’t always

hold up in all circumstances — and this might be the case 

in the current national mid-term cycle. 


The reason for this is the fact that major races for

governor, senator and congressperson now require so

much money that individuals must make their decisions

to run and begin fundraising earlier than in the past. This

is true for incumbents as well as challengers, although

incumbents are perhaps more concerned about likely

defeat if their districts are likely to be unfavorably

redrawn or specific issues  endanger their re-election.


Both parties now face such an unconventional cycle more

than a year before election day. 


For Democrats, foreign and domestic crises have seen a

sudden and precipitous drop in President Joe Biden’s

popularity because of his mishandling the U.S. military

withdrawal from Afghanistan. Even before Afghanistan,

the Mexican border crisis was causing serious problems

for Democratic incumbents in southeastern states (Texas,

Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada) with some

already announcing their retirements. Perhaps most

significantly, potentially strong challengers to vulnerable

Republican incumbents are feeling the current negative

environment — and with the resulting uncertainty about

next year, possibly deciding not to run. The retirement of

a 13-term Democratic congressman in Wisconsin indicates

the negatives are occurring nationally, especially in

suburban districts and battleground northern states

where progressive policies of defunding the police,

politicizing the schools, packing the U.S. supreme court,

etc., are very unpopular outside inner cities.


The political environment might improve for the

Democrats next year, but candidates must, in most

cases. make up their minds now when their prospects

appear low.


For different reasons, Republican incumbents and

challengers might face negative circumstances, and

might decide not to run in 2022. In fact, four sitting

U.S. GOP senators have already  announced their

retirement. The dilemma for Republicans next year is

the activity of former President Donald Trump in

some gubernatorial, senate and house races —  some

involving GOP incumbents — where his preferred

and endorsed candidate might not be the strongest

candidate for the office. This might be the case in

Arizona, for example. In a competitive 2022 race,

a Republican nominee without Mr. Trumps’s

support  would be at a distinct disadvantage. All

polls show that Trump supporters still dominate 

the GOP voter base.


The two leaders of their parties are thus key to the

eventual outcome of the 2022 elections, and as well

are key in many cases to the critical period  now

taking place when candidates are making their

decisions about next year.


One political commonplace is axiomatic, i.e., that

candidates matter. Wave elections and local

circumstances might allow weaker nominees

occasionally to win, but generally only quality

candidates, especially challengers to incumbents,

prevail with voters.


When the strongest candidates decide not to run

because of gloomy prospects well before election

day, opportunities are sometimes lost. A case in

point, was the contest for the 1992 Democratic

presidential nomination. President George H.W.

Bush was so popular following the 1991 Gulf War

victory that many strong Democratic candidates

decided not to run, and allowed an unknown and

controversial Bill Clinton to win the nomination.

By mid-1992, the economy had tanked, Ross

Perot was running as a third party candidate,

and in November, Clinton won.


It is true that a political environment can change

dramatically in a matter of months, but it is also

true that the critical period when candidates

decide whether to run or not has irreversible

consequences long before election day.


We are in such a period now — a year before

voters go to the polls.


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Copyright (c) 2021 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.