Just Tuning In?

We’re now officially into the stretch run of the midterm election cycle, with two weeks left until Election Day.

A big disclaimer to that milestone, of course, is early voting, which has been underway in some states since late September. Late last week the reigning expert on the subject, Michael McDonald, estimated that 1.9 million ballots had already been counted. Three states (OR. WA, and now CO) conduct all-mail-ballot elections.

At the other end of the spectrum, the cycle will not end on November 4. Louisiana’s “jungle primary” (everyone runs on the same ballot, with the goal being a majority of the vote) holds its first round on November 4, with a December 6 runoff. In Georgia, state and local contests that do not produce a majority will go to a December 2 runoff; for federal offices, the runoff date is January 6, 2015.

Political junkies are tired of this cycle by now. But an awful lot of reasonably civic-minded Americans who never miss an opportunity to vote are just now tuning in. What did they miss?

Not a whole lot, really. As in the recent past, most of the nomination process controversy was among Republicans. In virtually every GOP primary, all competitive candidates identified themselves as conservative, very conservative, severely conservative, “true” conservatives, constitutional conservative, your-worst-damn-nightmare-hippies! conservative, or to-the-right-of-Jimmy-Dean-Sausage conservative. Some type of conservative always won, though the MSM decided early on it was a very big year for GOP moderation.

The issues late-engaging voters will hear about obviously vary by location. In states with no competitive gubernatorial or congressional races, it’ll be pretty quiet. Where there are vulnerable incumbent governors running for re-election, they will tout their accomplishments while challengers will deplore the “wrong track” conditions of the state, even if their party colleagues running for federal office take the opposite position as to whether or not civilization as we know it may be coming to an end.

And in the relative handful of states that will determine control of the U.S. Senate–the big national “story”–much of the screaming on television will involve Republicans accusing Democrats of being stooges of Barack Obama and Harry Reid, while Democrats mostly talk about minimum wage legislation and birth control. Late-breaking Republican ads will depict scimitar-bearing Arabs and disease-bearing Africans swimming across the Rio Grande. There are, of course, rich local variations: in Kentucky, the Senate race appears to be a referendum on the sacred nature of coal and its holy usages; in Iowa, lawyers and chickens are popular topics; and in Kansas and South Dakota, lurid conspiracy theories involving evil independent candidates are in vogue. In every locale and in every race, however, voting appears to be limited to middle-class white folks, known to experts as “swing voters,” though they’ve largely been hunted to extinction.

For all the noise and irrelevancies, it should be reasonably apparent to most voters who are paying attention that there are pretty dramatic differences in the prevailing world views of the two major parties, even if their candidates spend most of their time hedging on their party’s core principles and denying or obscuring their own records.

As for the results, the only thing we can be absolutely certain about is that media folk and partisan spinners will inflate tiny margins of victory or defeat into apocalyptic events that could determine the fate of the Republic for decades on end. Democrats will either succumb to or escape the awful burden of being associated with Barack Obama, officially a lame duck. And Republicans will already be marshaling their resources for two years of wild obstructionism followed by the final conquest of the White House.

As you can probably tell, I’m planning on spending as much time on the evening of November 4 and immediately thereafter combating spin as I do discussing results. But in the meantime, we have two weeks before this officially becomes one of the less edifying election cycles in living memory.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.