We Showed How It's DoneThere has been no small amount of chatter in both the mainstream press and the blogosphere about the strength with which the Tennessee Republican Party dominated Election Night here. Many in the press have alluded to the notion that racism played a large role in the result, one in which the Republicans gained control of the General Assembly for the first time in the lives of everyone reading this print.
Both the media and bloggers on the other side of the aisle have busied themselves with theories that are at best half-true and at most are an outright fabrication. The Republicans actively worked to gain seats in the Legislature this year, knowing that doing so meant control of the appointment of constitutional officers, and an overhaul of State Government that is long overdue. Where the national race did impact the outcome was the scope of the Republican gains. Realistically, a lot of us didn't expect to control both houses of the Legislature for another two years.
There were things which the Tennessee Republican Party did which contributed to the victory here that the national party refused to do. One was to go on the attack against Barack Obama and to link Democratic candidates to Obama. This method was unbelievably successful, and proved that there was a strong movement against Obama in the general population which the McCain campaign refused to capitalize on. Instead, McCain's campaign left many voters not merely with the impression that there wasn't much difference between McCain and Bush, but that there was little philisophical difference between McCain and Obama, so why not give the Democrat a chance?
Perhaps the most important thing which Tennessee Republicans did was to stay on message. Unlike the national campaign, Republicans here did not attempt to change their tune in order to compensate for an unpopular Republican administration or the rotten economic times in which the country finds itself. Lower taxes, regulatory relief, and less government intervention remained the answer to the economic crisis. At the national level, John McCain was supporting bailouts of hundreds of billions of dollars for banks and investment houses which have behaved irresponsibly, as did his Democratic opponent. Those of us who are politically nuanced might see some difference between McCain and Obama on the implementation phase, but the average voter wouldn't see much difference at all.
John McCain paid lip service to the sanctity of life and the institution of marriage, but one could tell that he was uncomfortable dealing with social issues. The Vice Presidential candidate that he chose largely to appease the party's social right was muzzled, and it was after the election that people really began to get a taste of the reality that she wasn't just a dumb Alaska hick-an impression the media fostered and the McCain campaign allowed to remain in place without much of a fight. Meanwhile, in Tennessee, Republicans didn't run from the social issues, but ran on them, touting the pro-life cause as a reason to put them in the majority, and reminding voters of the success with the marriage amendment to the Tennessee Constitution two years earlier. Tennessee Republicans did not make social issues the center of their campaign, but they didn't need to, since the GOP in the Volunteer State made it abundantly clear where the party stood on the culture war with little room to move.
The results? A Republican legislative majority for the first time since Reconstruction, a 21-point landslide for a less-than-popular Republican presidential candidate in a year when the sitting Republican administration is unpopular even in Tennessee, and the re-election of a center-right Republican Senator (and former Governor) with massive numbers, and 21 percent of the African-American vote.
Tennessee Republicans showed the rest of the country what Republicans need to do to win elections.