Some quick thoughts on last night's race: Strategists on both sides appear detached and out-of-touch in the post-mortem. Some take issue with last night's Republican win being framed almost exclusively as some sort of referendum on health care reform. It's not that easy ...
True that Democrats will have to recalibrate their health care reform strategy in the face of stinging defeat in a reliably blue state. And, it is true that, for the first time in recent memory, average folks outside of think tank wonks and Beltway insiders are actually concerned about the rising national debt. We get that.
But, this election was all about jobs. Voters, in large part, respond or react based on their living conditions. All you have to do is gauge voter attitude in relation to their standard of living - Democrats, ironically painting themselves as the working folks' party, seemed to have missed the ball on that. Or, at least, their partisan hacks did. They've been missing the boat on that since the inception of the health care reform debate.
Early in 2009, I talked to countless people in malls, barber shops and on street corners in major states and urban centers throughout who couldn't understand why the White House and Congress were so fanatically focused on health care while they were losing jobs. A common refrain over the past year: "What's the use of having health care if I don't have a job?"
When posing the question as early as Spring of last year whether Democrats were making a grave strategic miscalculation by putting so much political capital into health care reform rather than jobs, I got stares of dismissal from colleagues sticking with DNC talking points.
With an atrocious lack of focus on job creation and a colossal failure of a foreclosure mitigation program (not to mention lack of clarity on exactly where the stimulus dollars ended up), it's not difficult to predict continuing upsets at the polls for Democrats. Major opportunities have been missed: the White House could have easily accessed remaining TARP money to provide direct loans or grants to unemployed homeowners. This would have went a long way towards erasing the perception that "Wall Street" gets favorable treatment while "Main Street" gets hosed.
The other factors contributing to Brown's win are much clearer. Again: Republicans fielded the more charismatic, appealing candidate. We see Dems making that mistake a third time, even after Jersey and Virginia - Coakley, rightly so, receives much of the blame for a lackluster performance, but Dem strategists should have seen this coming. There was also a failure to link Coakley's fate to the growing unpopularity of Bay State Governor Deval Patrick (D) (another problem for Dems in 2010). Coakley also suffered badly from the pervasive imaging of Brown as the "every guy," his pat-on-the-back, gregariousness with an electorate full of working class White males. And, why is it taboo for folks to admit that political races are, essentially, beauty contests? While Dems thought poking fun of Brown's past as a Cosmopolitan centerfold was effective counter advertising, it might have actually helped Brown as women registered Democrat or Independent suddenly found themselves voting Republican for the first time.
Democrats have no choice but to wrap health care up quick - or shelve it, take some incremental steps on insurance reform and reduced administrative costs while planning a revisit for a larger package in 2013. That's if the current President snags a second term. In the meantime, the focus must be on jobs and foreclosures. Political memory is short - get cracking on that. If you pass something dramatic by Summer, folks might forgive, forget and spread much love by November.