What happened in the Rodriguez-Bonilla race?
The courts redrew the district to make it competitive, and the DCCC put a ton of money in, but that alone couldn’t explain how Bonilla, a seven-term incumbent, went from 48% of the vote in the preliminary — barely short of the 50% that would have avoided a runoff altogether — to only 45% in the runoff.
Special elections are hard to read. But when a Democrat who was supposed to be the underdog takes out an incumbent Republican by a nine-point margin, there’s a strong temptation to look for larger causes.
It may be nothing more than increasing disgust with Bush and his imitation of either Captain Ahab or Captain Queeg with respect to Iraq. But it may also be that some voters who voted for Bonilla on the theory that the Republicans had pork to dole out decided to join the winning team. If that’s right, it bodes well for 2008. Perhaps the stability of the Republican majority in the House depended in large part on the fact that it was a majority, and some seats that were just out of reach this year may be takeable next time.
If you’re a control theorist, you call that a “positive feedback loop.” If you’ve read Michael Harrington, you remember his saying that “Coalitions are built by victories, not by defeats.” If you’re an old folkie, you hear Joan Baez’s voice singing Gil Turner’s words: “Ev’ry vict’ry’s gonna bring another.”