A Great Year in 2005?
December 16, 2004
By Tony Porco
2004 results are in, and they're bad for Democrats. We all know
what comes next - endless media speculation that the Democratic
party, and progressivism in America, are in the last throes of death.
Of course, this speculation is patently unfair, since Republicans
had lackluster or disastrous years in 1986, 1992, 1996, 1998, and
2000, and no-one ever said that they were dying. Fair or not, however,
the predictions go on.
Fortunately, liberals aren't taking this lying down. Lots of people
are already figuring out ways to sharpen the progressive message,
keep building on the enthusiasm we generated this year, and win
in 2006 and 2008. It's good to think about the future, but we don't
have to wait that long for a success that will help build our side's
morale and show the pundits that we can win. We have a big opportunity
only one year away - the odd-year election of 2005.
Will anyone care about what happens in an odd-year election? That's
a good question, but the answer is definitely yes. Odd-year elections
have attracted much more attention in recent years, and are now
considered predictors of what will happen in the future.
The much-ballyhooed 1993 election, in which Republicans won all
three of the biggest prizes, was widely considered a harbinger of
the huge Republican gains in 1994. Similarly, the defeat of the
first George Bush's attorney general, Dick Thornburgh, in a special
election for a Senate seat in Pennsylvania in 1991 was a premonition
of Bush's own defeat a year later.
If that kind of success seems unimaginable now, keep in mind that
the Democrats won two of the three major races in 2001, at the height
of George W. Bush's post-September 11 popularity. Furthermore, the
2005 contests will be fought on mostly-favorable terrain. Here is
a rundown of the three major races:
NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR
The Garden State has proven itself a Democratic state in the last
several elections; we have a real opportunity here. Democratic Gov.
James McGreevey stepped down on November 15, and was replaced by
State Senate President Richard Codey. The Republicans will try to
make hay out of the sex scandal that forced McGreevey out of office,
and McGreevey's subsequent revelation that he is gay (if we learned
anything from the 2004 race, it is that conservatives will never
hesitate to gay-bash if it will get them a few votes), but the McGreevey
resignation will be a distant memory this time next year.
The media are hoping that comedian and registered Democrat Joe
Piscopo decides to run, but popular Sen. Jon Corzine is currently
the strongest Democratic candidate. Many Republicans are running
in the primary, but the most likely nominee is former Jersey City
Mayor and red-meat rightwinger Bret Schundler, which should help
the Democrats, since McGreevey easily beat Schundler in 2001.
The high cost of car insurance in the state, a positive issue for
McGreevey in 2001 and in his earlier near-win in 1997, should take
center stage again, which will help Democrats as well.
NEW YORK MAYOR
This race is also a great opportunity for the Democrats, although
it's by no means an easy win. Michael Bloomberg, the city's Democrat-turned-Republican
mayor, has had a troubled term, and has never been able to capitalize
on the great popularity of his predecessor and mentor, Rudy Giuliani.
While he will certainly spend vast amounts of money on his re-election,
that doesn't mean he is unbeatable. Some people think that former
president Bill Clinton, who now has an office in the Big Apple (although
he doesn't live there), will move into the city and throw his hat
in the ring, but the more likely Democratic candidate is Bronx Borough
President Fernando Ferrer, who polls well against Bloomberg.
Yes, I know it is hard to believe, but Virginia is a real opportunity
for Democrats. The current Democratic governor, Mark Warner, won
in the very pro-Bush year 2001, and has remained popular despite
pushing for a tax increase last year. (It helped that the increase
was supported by many Republicans in the state legislature, and
that it was widely considered necessary to avoid horrid budget cuts
in popular programs.)
Warner is term-limited and cannot run again. Fortunately, his lieutenant
governor, former Richmond Mayor Tim Kaine, is an attractive candidate
who has also already won his own statewide race, since Virginia
voters elect governors and lieutenant governors separately. Unfortunately,
his most likely opponent, Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, has also
won statewide, and is also highly regarded.
This will be a tough race, but Warner's success in attracting rural
voters should give Democrats a lot of hope. John Kerry's performance
in the state is also a good sign; it was one of his best in the
South. Kerry carried all but one of the state's large cities, along
with its largest county (Fairfax, in Northern Virginia); he also
outpolled Al Gore in the growing Washington DC exurbs and carried
some rural counties. Even Kerry's statewide percentage of the vote
was an improvement over 2000.
We all know that the 2004 general election generated a lot of
excitement and enthusiasm among liberals, and saw the strengthening
of groups like America Coming Together and MoveOn. Here is my question:
What would happen if this enthusiasm was sustained and directed
into these three winnable races next year? What would happen if
MoveOn made them a priority? What if we won two out of the three
races? What about all three?
A win in 2005 will not change what happened in 2004, nor will
it produce a major realignment of American politics. Still, it has
the potential to be a great year for progressive Democrats - a year
when we celebrate some real successes, build our side's morale,
and remind the press and the opposition that we haven't gone anywhere.
It can be a year when we prove we still have the toughness to fight
hard and win electoral battles. We can go into the midterm election
of 2006 with that much more confidence, that much more momentum,
and that much more of the cash and volunteer muscle that come with
Let's make 2005 a great year!
Tony Porco lives in the Washington DC suburbs with his family.
His travel writing has appeared on the Bootsnall web site, and his
poetry has appeared in several literary magazines.