Guns, Wars, and History: Election Analysis

After having been born to a politically active Republican three weeks after Dewey thought he beat Truman, I've heard about or followed directly most of the fifteen "off-year" elections that have occurred in my lifetime, but yesterday I looked at the results from a different perspective - from my office overlooking Franklin Square in downtown DC as the new (4 months on the job tomorrow) head of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Here are some random election observations (both related to the Brady Campaign and more general):

1. Candidates supporting a common sense approach to gun violence prevention did very well. In races where the Brady Campaign endorsed candidates went head-to-head with competing candidates endorsed by the NRA, Brady won 5 of 5 Governorships (Patrick in MA, O'Malley in MD, Rendell in PA, Doyle in WI, and Blagojevich in IL) and 4 of 4 U.S. Senate seats (Cardin in MD, Cantwell in WA, Stabenow in MI, and Nelson in FL). Candidates endorsed by the Brady Campaign won over 95% of their races. It appears that candidates endorsed as "A" rated by the NRA lost in 109 U.S. House races and 18 U.S. Senate Races.

At least four of six U.S. Senate candidates that the NRA spent more than $1 million in total trying to re-elect went down to defeat, and the other two are losing. On the other hand, supporters of common sense gun laws in the Senate, like Dianne Feinstein, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Edward Kennedy, Deborah Stabenow and Richard Lugar were reelected handily.

In multiple key battles for Congressional seats supporters of tougher gun laws won, including Pennsylvania's Joe Sestak, Ohio's Betty Sutton and Colorado's Ed Perlmutter. "I'm so grateful to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence for supporting me early on," Perlmutter said. "Not only did they help me win my primary, they've helped bring the issue of gun violence front and center in Colorado's 7th district."

The gun lobby lost key Gubernatorial fights where the candidates waged brutal policy battles publicly over guns in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. It lost Governors' mansions in the other states as well, including Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, and Colorado, where victors Deval Patrick, Martin O'Malley, Eliot Spitzer and Bill Ritter proudly accepted the Brady Campaign endorsement. Keep checking our web page for additional details.

2. There seems to be a two-election limit on how long American voters will support U.S. involvement in a war that brings significant levels of deaths and casualties. The Civil War was still going on in 1862 and 1864 but was over by 1866. Our involvement in World War I started after 1916 and ended shortly after the 1918 elections. World War II was going on during the 1942 and 1944 elections but was over by 1946. Our presence in Korea began in June 1950, continued in 1952, but was over shortly after Eisenhower's election as President that year. Only Vietnam (1964, 1966, 1968, 1970, and 1972) and now Afghanistan/Iraq (2002, 2004, 2006) have gone on more than two elections. Once Vietnam hit the third election (1968), LBJ withdrew and party control of the Presidency switched. By the third election during the Vietnam War with a Republican President (1974), voters were clearly dissatisfied with the course of the war.

3. The 2006 elections have many making comparisons to 1994 or the off-year elections in the 1980s, but they also remind me a lot of 1970. Long-time incumbent Republicans in Congress like E. Ross Adair in Fort Wayne, Indiana were defeated that year. U.S. Senate races like Vance Hartke's win in Indiana were cliffhangers. Connecticut had a three-way race for the U.S. Senate, with the incumbent Democrat (Tom Dodd) running as an independent. Another northeastern state elected a third-party candidate to the U.S. Senate (Jim Buckley in New York). Anti-war feelings played a major role that year and the political parties were going through transitions that left both the parties and the electoral map in transition for years to come. 2006 may come to be seen as a similar year for redefining the two major parties and their areas of influence.

4. Finally, on a lighter note, did anybody notice how the CNN commentators last night chose their ties? Bill Bennett and J.C. Watts both wore red ties and James Carville and Paul Begala both wore blue. Who says showing your party/school/gang loyalty is out of style?

I'll add more thoughts after we have a little more time to reflect on this election and the consequences. Your comments and observations are welcome.