Television rules campaigns; conservatives, women gain

Whatever the outcome of next week’s elections, some political trends emerge.

They include the role of big money’s television buys, the status of conservatism and the role of women.

How do many, if not most, people decide how they’ll vote? Chances are good that it’s not based on candidates’ policy proposals or their debate performance.

Debates have become so numerous and predictable that many people ignore them. When they were more unusual and a slip of the lip could influence opinion, they mattered more.

Traditional campaign elements remain important. Candidates’ party affiliations matter, of course, but they are rarely mentioned. And identifying supporters and getting them to the polls must be done, now aided by software more than canvassing.

But what matters most is television. Short spots do not have to be accurate, and sheer repetition, made possible by huge financial resources, helps get messages, true or not, into viewers’ minds. Campaigns will set spending records thanks major donors’ television spots.

We hear increasingly about the growing roles of big political donors. They can funnel money on short notice to favored campaigns, mainly to buy television time. In other words, all of us can experience the influence of big money on American politics.

In this year’s campaign, it looks like the Republican TV spots outshine the Democrats’ commercials.

Have you ever seen a Democratic spot pushing the virtues of Obamacare? The GOP has been able to make the president and his program a target, and the Democrats have been unwilling to promote the program.

TV spots on their key program were missing in the two previous congressional elections. This year the unpopularity of Obamacare, thanks to the drumbeat of GOP opposition, spread to Obama himself, who has campaigned little rather than promoting his programs.

Thanks to their better TV spots and traditional mid-term slippage in support for the president’s party, the outlook must encourage the GOP.

Accordingly, the result in this year’s elections is likely to show a continued slide of the Congress toward the conservatives. The Democrats would be considered winners if they held onto their Senate majority, a feat considered impossible by many pundits. In other words, not losing would constitute winning.

But even both houses of Congress coming under GOP control could give a false impression.

When the dust settles, it will also be important to look at how many voters supported each party across the entire country. That will ignore gerrymandered congressional districts, which mainly favor the Republicans, whatever the total popular vote.

The people will probably remain closely divided in their political views. The seemingly clear conservative dominance in Congress is likely to diverge from the closer total popular vote.

That’s why the GOP, even enjoying new congressional power, will face the challenge of increasing its appeal to somewhat less conservative voters if it hopes to take the presidency in 2016 and thus gain complete political control in Washington.

Instead of seeking the outright repeal of Obamacare or blocking all Obama judicial appointments, a Republican Congress could take smaller bites into Democratic programs, perhaps making it difficult for the president to veto them.

It also means that the congressional Democrats will need to increase their party’s appeal to less liberal voters. They could end up supporting some of the spending reductions the Republicans want. Whether a GOP Senate could overcome Democratic filibusters and produce veto-proof majorities depends on just how much toward moderation it would move.

Meanwhile, a quieter and less ideological change in the American political scene may continue in next week’s elections.

If every woman running for a U.S. Senate seat now occupied by a man won her election and all female incumbents held their seats, the Senate would have 28 women out of its 100 members.

That would be a new record, surpassing the current 20 women. After the 2000 elections, there were 10 female senators and ten years before that, only two.

Of course, not all female candidates will win, because some are running as long shots against entrenched incumbents. As many as four women now in the Senate could lose their elections to male candidates. Still, a new record may be set as the trend continues.

Maine could end up with three of its four congressional slots filled by women. In the Senate race, incumbent GOP Sen. Susan Collins faces Democrat Shenna Bellows. The First District should be held by Democrat Chellie Pingree, and if Democrat Emily Cain defeats Republican Bruce Poliquin in the Second District, she would be the third Maine woman in the next Congress.

Gordon L. Weil

About Gordon L. Weil

Gordon L. Weil is a former local, state, national and international organization official. He is an author and newspaper columnist.