Inside the Capitol

Sunday, October 17, 2010

10-25 All Politics Is Local?

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- "All politics is local." It's a famous warning by former U.S. House Speaker Tip O'Neill. It is an admonition not to lose touch with local voters and not to forget that local issues mean the most to those voters.
But that maxim has taken a beating the past two elections and may suffer even more in 2010. U.S. Rep Newt Gingrich gave it a big kick in the head back in 1994 when he led the effort that took the House and Senate from Democrats halfway through President Bill Clinton's first term in office.
Rep. Gingrich nationalized politics that year by writing a Contract With America, which promised to reform Congress, Social Security, welfare and tort law, balance the budget and give tax breaks to small business.
The contract captured American's minds. I've told the story before of New Mexico's Rep. Steve Schiff tracking me down on a rural beach in Hawaii with no phone and no TV to excitedly tell me that Rep Gingrich had developed an ingenious plan to take back Congress for the first time in four decades.
It worked, as 367 Republican House candidates, incumbents and non-incumbents, stood on the steps of Congress and signed the contract. Historians tell us it was the first nationalized congressional election since 1918.
President Bill Clinton took the bait, responding to the Contract and Republicans swept to victory, taking advantage of Clinton's widespread unpopularity.
True to their Contract, Gingrich & Co. introduced 10 bills implementing the Contract during the first 100 days of Congress. All of them passed except the bill imposing term limits. Most of the bills either died in the Republican Senate or were vetoed by Clinton.
But then Clinton grabbed the advantage, introducing bills of his own implementing the Contract. Through a method he called triangulation, Clinton played Republicans and Democrats against each other.
He not only succeeded in getting most of the bills passed but took credit for them and won reelection in 1996.
Ten years later , Democrats managed to nationalize congressional elections, playing off the unpopularity of the two wars we were fighting, to take back Congress. Two years later, they widened their congressional margins with the help of Barack Obama's call for change.
Now 2010, and House Republicans are employing Gingrich's 1994 strategy with a Pledge to America.
The Pledge isn't as specific about what it will do or how it will do it if Republicans take back the House. Essentially it talks more about what it will undo, which is everything that has happened in the past two years.
But it did succeed in drawing immediate reaction from President Obama, a big step in nationalizing this election. Since then, talk of the Pledge has subsided but there are numerous indications it is working.
Democrats Martin Heinrich and Harry Teague began with campaign ads about all the good things they are doing within their congressional districts.
Now they have been drawn into defending votes in Washington and their support for the Wicked Witch of the West, Nancy Pelosi.
Xenophobic efforts to portray Republican gubernatorial candidate Susana Martinez as a Tejana, and not one of us, appear to be backfiring.
Out-of-state money is giving a big boost to Republican candidates since last spring when the U.S. Supreme court ruled corporations can spend all the money they want on political campaigns.
Former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin is giving a national flavor to campaigns, traveling around the country making endorsements.
Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell is said not to even have a campaign office. Her entire campaign evidently revolves around good and bad reviews she gets from national appearances on television and radio.
MON< 10-25-10

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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