Writings and observations

The incumbent rout

Among the various major national returns on Tuesday, one of the more notable and less-discussed is the close re-election win by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He has been popular (at least according to polls and surveys), widely regarded as competent, setting policies that have been widely acceptable in town. Although polling showed him in a lead of 15 to 20 percentage points, he set up a terrific campaign apparatus and funded it to the level of six figures – unheard of for such a race. And he drew for opposition relative unknowns who didn’t campaign hard or well. Exit polls on election day put his approval rating among voters at about 70%. He was expected to win in double digits, easily – this logically should have been a landslide. Instead, he won by only about four points. But for his extraordinary campaign, he probably would have lost.

New York evidently was no aberration. Incumbents did not have an easy time on Tuesday – and the key point seemed to be, throw out the insiders.

One of the most surprising Northwest results on Tuesday was the ouster of popular (or so was widely thought) Pocatello Mayor Roger Chase, who lost to a challenger who campaigned only lightly and seemed as surprised at his win as everyone else in town. There were more mayoral ousters in Idaho, too. The the Magic Valley, well-known names were turned out in Burley, Buhl and Minidoka. The veteran mayor of fast-growing Ammon was bumped out. A lot of council members lost their seats. Some of this happens every election, but the ratio this time seemed a little high.

In Washington, one of the most consequential mayoral races resulted in popular (yes, again) Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard bounced by Tim Leavitt (a council member, but positioned as an outside). In Seattle, voters first (in the primary) left the incumbent two-term mayor Greg Nickels in third place, then in the general, faced with two newcomers, gave the nod to the contender (Mike McGinn) who was least aligned with Nickels, the downtown power structure, or anything resembling incumbency. Two incumbent council members lost at Spokane.

Incumbents didn’t do badly everywhere, of course. But there’s another side-operative point here. To repeat a slice from the Betsy Russell blog (at the Spokesman-Review): “After the Idaho Republican Party took the unusual step of passing a central committee resolution backing party involvement in non-partisan city races, one county’s GOP central committee endorsed a challenger, Alex Creek, in a city council race in Idaho Falls; some party activists portrayed a Boise City Council race as partisan because one candidate, T.J. Thomson, was a key organizer for Barack Obama’s Idaho campaign; and a non-official GOP group endorsed and campaigned for a city council challenger, Jim Brannon, against councilman Mike Kennedy in Coeur d’Alene. The result: Creek lost 2-1; Thomson won handily; and Kennedy won by five votes.”

The logical conclusion here doesn’t seem to be an anti-Republican pattern; rather, it looks as though endorsement by insiders (even if those endorsed are challengers) didn’t come off well.

The mood seemed to be not ideological, but rebellious. A consideration to think about as the next year, with its mid-term cycle concluding next November, begins to unfold.

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