Issues thought to matter didn’t with votersBig money. A slow but steady economic recovery. Voter turnout. We all know the things that made a political difference. I’m more surprised at the things that didn’t.
By: By Mike Nichols, Superior Telegram
Big money. A slow but steady economic recovery. Voter turnout. We all know the things that made a political difference. I’m more surprised at the things that didn’t.
Besides Herb Kohl, I mean.
Here, in no particular order, are the things that — despite the prognostications of the pundits and hopes and fears of political operatives — never really mattered:
Mitt Romney’s religion: At a town hall meeting in Howard last April, a young Wisconsin man told Romney he was concerned about his Mormon faith, tried to quote Mormon verse that some suggest is racist, and went on to ask the candidate if he was against interracial marriage. Romney said, “No,” but also made it clear, “We’re just not going to have a discussion about religion.” Turned out no one else in America wanted to either. Mitt Romney lost for lots of reasons, but not because of his faith.
Tammy Baldwin’s sexual orientation: The Thompson campaign erred badly when it tried, at one point, to suggest the fact Baldwin is gay means she lacks “heartland values.” Voters didn’t agree. Baldwin is the first openly gay person to be elected to the U.S. Senate, proving mainstream Wisconsinites are a lot more interested in candidates’ political bedfellows than their literal ones.
Obama’s support for same-sex marriage: Voters in two states, Maine and Maryland, cast ballots last Tuesday agreeing with him, and there’s no evidence it hurt him anywhere else. Minnesota defeated a constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between a man and a woman.
Scott Walker crying: Walker was captured on camera with a tear running down his cheek during Paul Ryan’s speech at the Republican National Convention in August. I’m surprised some of these guys — especially during grueling campaigns when they don’t get a lot of sleep — don’t show emotion more often. But even the youngest pols likely know the story of Edmund Muskie, who appeared to cry during a speech defending his wife in front of the New Hampshire Union Leader in 1972. Men didn’t cry back then, and many believe it cost Muskie the Democratic nomination for president. It wouldn’t nowadays. Nowadays, even Republicans cry, especially after last Tuesday.
The “historic” protests and recalls: For all the chanting and singing and shouting and marching in Madison last year, we’re right back where we were before in this state. The Republicans control the governor’s mansion, and both the Senate and the Assembly. The Democrats still control the vuvuzelas, but it’s not clear why they’d want to ever use them again.
Newspaper endorsements. Witness The State Journal’s decision to endorse Romney after going for Obama four years ago. Back in 2008, Obama took 73 percent of the vote in Dane County, where the paper circulates, while carrying Wisconsin by almost 14 points. This year, the president’s margin of victory in Wisconsin was much smaller, 7 points. But — despite the paper’s change-of-heart — he still took Dane by nearly as much of a margin as last time, 71 percent.
Billions of dollars. Yes, big money helped win a lot of races. But it’s mind-boggling to think how much was also spent on losing ones. Tommy Thompson’s campaign and outside groups who supported his bid spent tens of millions in their losing battle. The National Journal estimates that the Romney campaign and outside interests that supported him spent over $30 million on advertising in Wisconsin alone. Nationwide, candidates and outside interests spent approximately $6 billion on the U.S. House, Senate and presidential races this fall, according to an estimate by the Center for Responsive Politics. And half of the candidates lost.
Just thinking about all that wasted moolah brings a tear to my eye — not that I expect anyone to care.
Mike Nichols is a syndicated columnist who spent 18 years writing about Wisconsin for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He is now a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. This column represents only his personal opinion. Contact him at MRNichols@wi.rr.com.