Yesterday’s elections were good news for folks who, like me, want to see American politics pushed back toward the center.
Moderate Republicans took back the governorships in New Jersey and Virginia, thanks mainly to political independents who reversed the support they gave Democrats last year. But Democrats picked up a U.S. House of Representatives seat that had been in Republican hands since the Civil War, after intervention by the GOP’s right wing brought cable-television tub-thumping to a rural district in far northern New York.
Unfortunately, Maine voters nullified a law that would have made their state the sixth to legalize same-sex marriage, and the first to do so with the endorsement of its voters. Instead, Maine now is the 31st state in which voters have rejected marriage for same-sex couples.
But the Maine vote was close (52 percent to repeal the same-sex marriage law passed by the state’s Legislature; 48 percent opposed to repeal), and it, too, represents a sort of progress and centrism. Maine is in gay-tolerant New England, but it is not a liberal state in the mold of Massachusetts and Vermont, where same-sex marriage got its start. Two Republicans represent Maine in the Senate. The state has a largely blue-collar work force, and its most prominent industries, fishing and forest products, both have a strong macho ethic. Maine’s vote this year reflected the same split we saw in more liberal California last year. Support for gay marriage clearly is growing, and not just in big urban centers and college towns.
In Washington state, a ballot issue to offer same-sex civil unions with most of the privileges of marriage may well pass, although that state’s vote-by-mail procedure means final results may not be available for several days.
Left-wing Democrats are attacking some of their own party’s moderate senators in broadcast advertising over health care reform. Social conservatives have repeatedly demonstrated, as in yesterday’s New York race, that they are willing to see Republicans lose elections rather than give a greater voice in their party to moderates. Each group represents a party “base” to which candidates must cater in order to be nominated. But, once nominated, these candidates need support from independent voters, and this pushes them back toward the center. The result is a tug-of-war that is playing out in both parties.
Yesterday’s balloting sends a message to Democrats and Republicans in Washington: Steer toward the middle of the road, or voters may just stop you in your tracks.