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Michael Bitzer column: We had a what on Tuesday?

Some “tweets” from the 2009 elections: From the local race for the sales tax:
What Happened to Conventional Wisdom? Out of the top five Republican-precincts (based on party registration), four precincts voted for the Sales Tax, while out of the top five Democratic-precincts, three of them voted against the Sales Tax, with one precinct (South Ward) tying their votes 50-50 percent.
– – –
Top Five Precincts voting for the Sales Tax:
– Mount Ulla (72 percent For to 28 percent Against)
– North Granite Quarry (67 percent to 33 percent)
– Scotch Irish (66 percent to 34 percent)
– Sumner (66 percent to 34 percent)
– Milford Hills City (65 percent to 35 percent)
– – –
Top Five Precincts voting against the Sales Tax:
– East Kannapolis (75 percent Against to 25 percent For)
– West Ward 3 (70 percent to 30 percent)
– Blackwelder Park (69 percent to 31 percent)
– East Landis (60 percent to 40 percent)
– West Kannapolis (60 percent to 40 percent)
– – –
We Had a What on Tuesday? Top three precincts with fewest votes cast:
– Morgan 1 (50 votes, or 6.2 percent voter turnout in the precinct)
– West Enochville (70 votes, or 2.87 percent voter turnout in the precinct)
– Blackwelder Park (71 votes, 5.5 percent voter turnout in the precinct)
– – –
But At Least We Showed Up. Top three precincts with highest voter turnout:
– West Ward 2 (14 percent voter turnout, voting 59 percent to 41 percent for the sales tax)
– South China Grove (12.8 percent voter turnout, voting 59 percent to 41 percent for the sales tax)
– Faith (12.3 percent voter turnout, voting 61 percent to 39 percent for the sales tax)
– – – State-wide voter turnout for the 2009 election was 16 percent, with Greene County having 49 percent voter turnout, while Swain County had 2.87 voter turnout (30 out of 1,046 registered voters made it to the polls).
– – –
From the national races (of which there really weren’t any):
Independents seeking change still rule: In 2008, President Obama built a winning coalition around two critical groups: an energized base of Democrats and the critical swing independent voters.
In 2009, the successful Republican gubernatorial did the same thing: energize their bases and bring over the independent voters. In the solid-blue New Jersey, those seeking change favored the Republican 2-to-1 over the incumbent Democrat.
In swing-purple Virginia, independent voters went 2-to-1 for the Republican over the Democrat.
– – –
History still rules as well: Since 1977, the party that has controlled the White House has subsequently lost the Virginia’s governor’s mansion, and the same in New Jersey since 1989.
History also teaches that when a political party has significant wins in previous elections (see 2006 and 2008 for the Democrats), the party looses the “mo-jo” and momentum gained from support complacency-and the opposition gains “mo-jo” to rebound.
– – –
It’s not who won in ’09, but who’s afraid in ’10: Elections, like opinion polls, are merely snapshots in time.
But there is a larger, deeper trend going on in the electorate that is starting to gain momentum in the polls and was reflected in Tweet No. 1: Independents can make or break a campaign.
And for incumbents, especially those in swing districts (such as U.S. Rep. Larry Kissell in District 8), looking at the races and the current polls may give one pause before leaving the centrist middle.
– – –
You win with something rather than nothing: Both Republican gubernatorial candidates had pragmatic policies and agendas that the voters responded to, especially independent voters who were out of work or scared of the economy.
A cardinal rule of running for office: run on something.
For national Republicans entering 2010, take the playbook that they used in 1994 and put forth a platform of ideas for voters to consider. With their national party identification still in the twenty-percent range, they need to convince the public they have something more than “no, no, no.”
– – –
Move it or lose it: for the Democrats, they need to move things along, particularly with the economy and health care. While the president still garners significant personal support, his policy support levels are waning, most likely due to a combination of factors, notably the economy, jobs, and the health-care debate.
Best course of action for national Democrats entering 2010: Get health-care done (whatever the compromise is) and get back to the economy and jobs, which was the No. 1 focus of Virginia and New Jersey voters (85 and 89 percent, respectively). Or 2010 could signal another 1994-style election.
– – –
Looking ahead by looking behind: For North Carolina voters next year, the single statewide race will be the U.S. Senate seat currently held by incumbent Richard Burr. There will be a lot of national attention on this race, with the soft support Burr is currently receiving in the polls.
An important historical point: since this seat was vacated by Sam Ervin in 1974, the incumbent party holding the seat has lost to the opposition party when facing re-election.
The 2010 election may not be an “anti-incumbent” year, but the fuel is there for such a turnover, and history isn’t helping matters, either.
– – –
Dr. Michael Bitzer is an associate professor of political science and history at Catawba College.

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