Monday, November 5, 2012

Final thoughts and predictions on Montana's elections

As per usual, I am composing this several days ahead of time, but barring some unexpected surprise, the basic contours of the races facing Montana would appear to be pretty stable. While there will be predictions later, I'm more interested in some broader issues.

The first observation that I would make is the critical importance of recruiting experienced candidates. If Rick Hill, a former U.S. Congressman with considerable fundraising abilities and proven campaign experience, is in a nailbiter when running against a sitting Democratic Attorney General in the governor's race -- how well would someone with lesser experience have fared?

The same goes for our other major races: it will, for instance, probably have made all the difference to have someone of the manifest talents of Steve Daines, who was also battle-tested as Roy Brown's running mate in a governor's race in a tough year for Republicans back in 2008. Tim Fox has a decent shot at being the first Republican AG since Marc Racicot in no small part because of the experience he gained in his last run at that office 4 years ago. Ditto for Brad Johnson in the Secretary of State race. Likewise, unseating an incumbent U.S. Senator is such a difficult task that one doubts anyone without Denny Rehberg's experience would have a shot at it.

Granted, previous experience gives a larger target to shoot at, especially if someone has a voting record. Being a blank slate gave Jon Tester a big advantage in 2006, after the savaging that Conrad Burns sustained at the hands of Montana's press. But that is a special situation -- usually, the most salient feature about inexperienced candidates is that they are, well, inexperienced.

A related thought is that the Republican Party in Montana needs to pay greater attention to grooming high quality candidates and encouraging them to run for our various "lesser" state-wide offices. There is just no substitute for having been through the challenges of having run state-wide at least once (preferably successfully) when making a run at the major offices of U.S. Congressman, U.S. Senate, and governor. Republicans in the legislature should also take this into consideration when electing people to leadership positions -- those who seem to have the right stuff (and desire) for seeking higher office should be given some preference. It gives them a chance for more name recognition and for seeing how they deal with pressure and attention (both positive and negative.)

A special recruitment effort needs to go into finding which of our state's few conservative Republican attorneys can be persuaded to get the political bug. Republicans have a chronic problem with competing in the Attorney General race for this very reason. It is just difficult to take someone with no prior political experience or involvement and have them run a successful state-wide race for that position. Ditto for the Supreme Court. (Yes, I know that in theory, that is a non-partisan race, but how many lawyers with conservative judicial philosophies are going to be Democrats?)

So any predictions for Montana Headlines? I think that Republicans will have a pretty good day in Montana, with Steve Daines, Rick Hill, and Denny Rehberg all carrying the day. The anti-Obama undertow is just going to be too strong. I think Tim Fox will win the AG race for the GOP, but that the Democrats will maintain their lock on the Land Board by sweeping the remaining three races, unless Brad Johnson pulls out an upset in the Secretary of State race.

I hope that Laurie McKinnon wins the Supreme Court race, but there just isn't enough information that gets out about such races to be able to count on it. An even more important question is whether McKinnon will have the force of personality to provide some counterbalance to the highly partisan and liberal supermajority on our current Montana Supreme Court. The project of bringing balance to that body is the project of decades, and it will require the same kind of planning and determination that Montana's liberals and trial lawyers (did I just repeat myself?) put into capturing it in the first place.

And what about the big tamale -- the U.S. Presidency? I don't usually comment on national politics except as it directly impacts Montana, but why not, just this once?

While I realize that consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, I'm going to stand by the prediction that I made nearly 5 years ago -- that Mitt Romney has what it takes to lose respectably, but not to win a national election. He had many of the elements needed -- he was a governor, he is formidable fundraiser, he has a pathological desire to become President (a most necessary trait), and he cuts a decent figure on television. He doesn't have a solid political philosophical bone in his body, though, and ultimately that is a fatal flaw.

He has, however, far exceeded my expectations, and in the course of the campaign I have undergone a transition. I started as someone who would vote dutifully for Romney as a good Republican and out of dislike for President Obama's policies and politics. I ended it, however, as someone who feels that Romney would make a better President than our country probably deserves at this point in our messed-up political life, and a President who may be well-suited to the economic troubles our country faces.

At the end of the day, though, I am an old-fashioned conservative who is pessimistic about the direction that our country is going politically. Consider -- in 2008 Barack Obama was easily the single most unqualified and unprepared person to win the Oval Office in the modern era. And that was in spite of the American public being fully aware of his past radical associations and positions. And he won overwhelmingly -- against a war hero and experienced U.S. Senator.

He then proceeded to demonstrate for all the world to see just how unprepared he was to be President. He did so for four years, and showed no capacity to see his own flaws and mistakes, let alone shift course. By all rights, virtually any Republican who could walk and chew gum should have been able to walk away with this election. Win or lose, the fact that Romney has been in a dogfight (and a losing one most of the time) from wire to wire tells me that America has fundamentally and perhaps irrevocably changed.

Barring a massive great political and social awakening spurred by a prolonged and brutal recession/depression, the main question tomorrow night will be who the last modestly conservative U.S. President will be: Mitt Romney or George W. Bush. If Mitt Romney is elected (and I dearly hope that he is), it will be almost entirely because of the fact that Democrats got ahead of themselves by electing an unprepared leftist who was too arrogant to be willing to pretend he was anything else. They won't make that mistake again.

Fortunately there is much, much more to life than politics. Family, church, work, hunting, fishing, hiking, music, literature... you name it, it is more important than politics. Let's hope that no matter what politicians we are forced to deal with for the next few years, we will be left alone as much as possible to pay attention to those things. That, ultimately, is the conservative way... and indeed the hope at the bottom of every sensible human heart.

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