On election night, as Florida dominated the news and led to false ecstasy from Republicans, a relative sent me a famous old Merrie Melodies gif of Bugs Bunny sawing Florida off from the rest of the United States – an apt memory for me. I was sawing Florida off in my email from any future gathering of relatives, which we had done in that state several times. But not again as long as Ron DeSantis was governor and Marco Rubio was a senator.
Florida election results not only saddened me, but they misled many in the nation because they came early in the Nov. 8 count. Viewers didn’t at first realize it was an outlier, that Biden had scored a victory by going gently into changing things, by staving off disaster and keeping not only the Senate in control (probably) but the House less in opposition hands than many of the presidents who preceded him in mid-terms. They had disasters, he had a glitch. He also had voters who understood his pace and ignored (in several areas though not my state) the hysteria crime ads of the Republicans.
I was saddest for Val Demings (Senate) and disturbed that smirking DeSantis was now acting even more godlike as he contemplated running for president. That gif reminded me and should remind him that Florida is unlike most of the country and can be mentally sawed off. Whether he has appeal in the other 49 remains to be seen, though the battle with Trump could be as laughable as his Nancy Sinatra boots (a now famous meme).
It is ironic, of course, that the state most in need of active action on climate change, health care, broad cultural diversity and immigration reform would vote statewide against its own best interests. But that is Florida today, like Kansas in eras gone by.
Unlike 2000 and the Al Gore/George Bush race when NBC’s Tim Russert famously proclaimed “Florida, Florida” (the then swing state that could save democracy) -- well, Florida ain’t swinging these days. It is hard red – no longer a state for the US to put any hopes in.
It was not all great news for the Democrats, though better than
many expected. There were some bridges too far and I was steeled to expect Rubio surviving in Florida (though he almost ran away with the race), and that Chuck Grassley was likely to die in harness in Iowa. But Johnson? 18 years of that oaf? I am ashamed of my home state, somewhat eased by the Democrats who survived (almost all of them), the Democrats who changed the map (Futtermen in PA) and the ones who came close.
Let’s be honest about the last batch. Ohio is a strange and strangely conservative state in politics, and while Tim Ryan was clearly the better choice (saying Sen. J.D. Vance makes me feel like swallowing my tongue), he also looked too cautiously at the conservative nature of the state and decided to run as a maverick and his own man, refusing help from Biden and even Obama. He came close but events prove him wrong. I mean, the other senator from that state is blunt progressive Sherrod Brown! This was an election year where some Democrats like Ryan wanted the president to stay away. They didn’t understand that Biden’s low poll numbers were more about age than accomplishments.
I also think the Democratic powers-that-be missed a developing opportunity in North Carolina, which despite the prognostication has been a good chance for months. Maybe the money was stretched too thin already, but celebrity presence could have made a difference. I keep thinking a visit from Obama in the last week would have worked wonders for Cheri Beasley, who came close but doesn’t have another good national opportunity for years.
But what was also remarkable about Nov. 8 was that the voters took seriously the threat to democracy, and to reproductive rights, the two together probably more important than inflation. The vote reflected their distaste for Jan. 6 and even for Trump, up and down the ballot of governors and other local races.
It also signals that the nation is comfortable giving Biden some freedom to operate. The polls that indicate most voters think he is too old to run again in 2024 were belied by the results. His policy (doing things people want and just letting the results unfold in their own time) seems to be working at home and abroad.
If the Republicans can actually do anything with a narrow margin in the House, Biden is probably the Democrat who can work with them. He may not be able, lacking the House, to codify Roe v Wade into law – except the Republicans were looking at the same election and saw how reproductive rights were essential to voters, a concept winning in states like Kentucky where the Democrats didn’t do well. It’s not a partisan idea, and Biden has a better chance of picking off enough Republicans in the House to go with what looks like a stronger majority in the Senate.
Wisconsin was not a typical election state because it has been so gerrymandered. But even here the Republican legislature failed to gain a supermajority, which means Tony Evers’ return to the governor’s mansion keeps an important block on Republican shenanigans. Josh Kaul also returns as attorney general. In many ways this is a salve to Barnes’ loss in the Senate, because keeping Evers in place was the most important goal.
There are some pundits, mainly Republican ones, who think if Barnes had been more of a centrist he would have won. I wondered if those remarks were a subtle suggestion that Wisconsin was not ready for a black senator or a progressive one. I think it should shame Wisconsin that the racist ads and focus on crime worked, but frankly I think Mandela handled himself well and shouldn’t back way from his progressive roots – in fact, I think he should have been more aggressive in that regard. But the marketplace was against him, particularly the split between urban and rural. America seems to have entered a space where every casual remark can be turned into a savage sound bite in a commercial.
One thing Nov. 8 does set up is a surer chance for Wisconsin to return to the real world. In April it only needs one election and one candidate to correct a state supreme court that has given the GOP free rein on Foxconn, voting rights, big business corruption, and poor environmental regulations. This is a court that has been carrying Republican water in a 4 to 3 majority for way too long.
Now there is a firmer justice on the horizon, not beholden to one particular political party and committed to intelligent judicial balance – Janet Protasiewicz, a Milwaukee judge I covered years ago.
She is running for the high court in 2023. Her election in April would quietly but instantly correct a big problem in the state and pave the way for more intelligent and progressive elections in 2024 and 2026.
I expect more attention will be paid to this state race, including vicious GOP attacks and big money, because the US high court’s decisions taking away rights people thought they had has made everyone more conscious of the importance of judicial appointments – on all levels. In Wisconsin we elect them.
Even a casual look at the state high court decisions on voting rights, big business behavior, John Doe probes of corruption – and on and on – emphasize how this is the next most important election in Wisconsin.