At first blush, the new wave of Republican influence in Washington, in Tennessee, and elsewhere would seem to be unlike previous political sea changes in the nation's history.Nationally, Republicans gained control of the U.S. House by more than 50 votes. In Tennessee, the state's House contingent went from 5-4 Democratic to 7-2 Republican, with even arch Blue Dog Lincoln Davis in rural Middle Tennessee's 4th District falling to a Republican challenger. And the Tennessee legislature, having gone through a few short years of rough partisan balance after decades of Democratic domination, is now Republican through and through — with 64 GOP members in the House, compared to 34 Democrats and one "Carter County Republican" (soon-to-be-deposed Speaker Kent Williams), and a 20-13 edge for the Republicans in the state Senate.
And that was all before the post-census redistricting that will be carried out through GOP auspices in the next two years. At the state level, the Democrats' only consolation would seem to be summed up in the phrase "It can't get much worse." For the case can be made that the aforementioned 7-2 ratio at the congressional level will be a constant, no matter how the new lines are drawn, with permanent Democratic seats in the urban bastions of the 9th District (Memphis) and the 5th District (Nashville). And, since so many of the new Republican seats in the state House (a gain of 13 over the previous number) are in rural districts not easily gerrymandered, it is easy to imagine that the new House members might prefer to keep the same old configurations that just elected them.
Most of last week's outcomes were fully expected — specifically Republican Bill Haslam over Democrat Mike McWherter for the Tennessee governorship, Republican John Boozman over incumbent Democrat Blanche Lincoln for the U.S. Senate in Arkansas, the GOP's Stephen Fincher over Democratic state senator Roy Herron in the rural 8th congressional district of northwest Tennessee, and Alan Nunnelee of the GOP over Democratic incumbent Travis Childers in Mississippi's 1st District.
All of these races were romps. But so were the victories of 9th District Democrat Steve Cohen over Republican Charlotte Bergmann and Arkansas' Democratic governor Mike Beebe over Republican challenger Jim Keet.
What these two cases, along with the relatively narrow loss of Democrat Chad Causey to Republican Rick Crawford in Arkansas' 1st District, had in common was that these Democrats made much less of an effort (and in Cohen's case, no effort) to distance themselves from their party brand. The previously mentioned Democratic losers were conspicuous in their studied renunciations of traditional party loyalty.
We would suggest that talking up the Ford line is not the best way to sell Chevys. Or vice versa. Ideology aside, the late Barry Goldwater's demand for "a choice, not an echo" was soundly based then and remains so. Voters this year may have had some idea of what they were voting against, but it is doubtful they know yet what they were voting for.
Both parties would be well advised to fill in the blanks when another chance comes round again in 2012.