On the importance of getting out of the wagon circle

The congressional and gubernatorial mid term elections rarely catch much attention outside the US. Mostly because, despite the media’s weight of attention on Bush, it is not a race for federal executive power. Rather, as Mickey Kaus points out, in this case a Democratic capture of both houses may only serve to muddy the waters over key foreign policy issues like Iraq, in advance of the presidential elections of 2008.

For all the talk of surges, the conservative nature of this race is reflected in the fact change of control in the Senate depends on the Democrats taking at least six gains. Outside a handful of fluid states, there is little loose territory. For weeks now (and despite big national poll leads for the Dems) Slate’s Election Scoreboard column has had the two parties tied on 49 seats each.

The tightness of the race shows just how polarized the US has become in the last six years over the figure of its president, George Bush. The Democrats, arguably, have arguably suffered the greater burden of that polarisation. Everywhere, it seems, except Kansas. As Kevin Anderson at the Guardian noted last week, the Democrats have been making ground with a highly local charm offensive:

In liberal circles in the US, the question has been: What’s the Matter with Kansas? Thomas Frank, a Kansan himself, wondered how conservatives convinced blue-collar Kansans to care more about social issues than economic issues, often to their own financial detriment. Now, Kansas seems to be showing what the problems are for Republicans in this year’s midterm elections. The popular Democratic governor, Kathleen Sebelius, is famously saying that she is “converting Republicans one at a time”, and largely down to her influence and popularity, nine former Republicans will be running as Democrats this year.

Effectively he argues that there is a limit to the extent anyone can move further to the right (or indeed to the left). Something clearly not lost on Cameron in the UK. Perhaps the lesson of Kansas is, perhaps, that to get beyond the current deadlock, the ‘opposition’ needs to go out and meet with people that they think they may have little in common with, rather than speaking exclusively with others within their own wagon circle.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty