November 10th, 2006

Brad @ Burning Man

McCaskill's victory: Not so amazing, after all.

I've been looking at the county-by-county results some more. The New York Times made it a lot easier for me to wrap my head around Claire McCaskill's come-from-behind win over Jim Talent by making it easy to graphically compare the results of the Talent/McCaskill race to two previous elections. This first graph compares the county-by-county results for Talent/McCaskill to the 2004 results for Bush/Kerry:



Oh my god, what a blow-out. Unforseeable. Unimaginable. What an incredible total and unexpected repudiation of the Republican Party, right? Who would have thunk it? That's the way it's being talked about. Heck, my own memory failed me enough that on Wednesday morning that's how I was talking about it. But compare the same map on the left (Talent/McCaskill) to the 2000 results for Ashcroft/Carnahan:



Well, now ... that's a horse of a different color, now, isn't it? Those two maps aren't nearly as different from each other. So if you compare these maps, three things stand out. In 2000 and 2006, as in most races in my lifetime, the deep red counties from 2004 are a lot paler red. In 2000 and 2006, there's a stripe of pale to medium blue running south-by-southwest from St. Louis all the way to the Arkansas border that's missing from the 2004 map. And in the 2000 and 2006 maps, there's a pocket of pale blue in the southeastern Missouri "bootheel" region, at the farthest northernmost tip of the Mississippi River delta.

Statewide: An awful lot of Democrats stayed home in 2004, and/or a lot more Republicans showed up at the polls, in almost every rural county on the map. Even rural voters who identify with Democrats couldn't identify with John Kerry. Which, frankly, doesn't surprise me. John Kerry was a self-identified northeastern yankee with upper-class pretensions and a bad habit of letting everybody around him know that he thought he was smarter than them. Sort of like Al Gore, only more so. All those syrupy syllables and Ivy League polysyllables and Senate-speak qualifier-laden seventy-word sentences made him look like somebody who at best wouldn't care about rural people, and most likely would actively despise them. Someone who speaks their language can reach a lot of those farmers on behalf of the Democrats, get them to vote anti-war and to back Democrats on trade. Not the majority, who'll continue to vote "God, guns, and gays" Republican for the forseeable future. But a really important and substantial number of them. We would like to win those counties, but we don't have to. But we do have to place.

Mining Country: That stripe that runs south-southwest from where I'm at exactly lines up with a map of lead and iron deposits in Missouri. That's mining country. Which means the remnants of working class mineworkers' unions, living in small rural towns. Those people trusted Mel Carnahan, and then Carnahan's widow Jean, to care about them. And they trusted Claire McCaskill, who came from a place like that herself and still talks that way, to do the same. (One of the smartest ads that pro-Talent forces ran in this cycle was an add pointing up the mansion in Ladue and the tax shelters in Barbados that McCaskill's husband's business successes paid for. If they'd run more of those ads and earlier, we might have been in more trouble.) In a very old Doonesbury cartoon that I'm fond of, Uncle Duke, then the Ford administration's ambassador to China in the cartoon, sneered to his Communist Party translator that all labor leaders have deep sympathy for the plight of the working class -- that's how the keep from having to join it. There's a big grain of truth in that remark. To get big Labor turnout on election day, Labor needs more than the usual hollow promises we've been breaking since Clinton came into office. Even more important than those promises, they need to look at our candidate and think, "one of us."

Rice Country: The bootheel is farm country, but it's not farm country like anywhere else in Missouri. It's rice country, not mostly corn and soybean like the rest of the state. More relevantly, it's the only place in Missouri where nearly half of the farms are owned by black families. There's no reason why it would be at all hard to ask the people living there to vote Democratic. Did Kerry? Did the pre-Dean DNC pay any attention to the Mississippi delta region? Or did they write it off as "farm country in Dixie" and therefore unreachable? My sense is that they did the latter.

Claire McCaskill got mocked for riding her RV to every county in Missouri, for spending time in places she couldn't possibly win. She got accused, including by my own hereditary Democratic US Representative "Lacey" Clay, of neglecting get-out-the-vote efforts in the big cities to chase "non-existent" rural Democratic voters. But there's something that struck me when Dr. Dean said it in his book. Asking someone for their vote, even if you know you're never going to get it, is never a waste of time. It's a brief chance to make the case for your own principles. But more importantly, it is a sign of respect for that person. And that's never a meaningless gesture. And, as we saw Tuesday, it's a gesture of respect that pays dividends.
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