A pleasant surprise

Does Bonilla’s defeat presage an even worse “thumpin’ ” for the GOP in 2008?

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 &#8212 barely short of the 50% that would have avoided a runoff altogether &#8212 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.”

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

6 thoughts on “A pleasant surprise”

  1. Stuart:
    No, I said it was a good thing that Republicans are no longer able to bribe voters to re-elect them.

  2. The desire to be on the winning team along with demographic changes in the US is going to make the Democratic party the only relevent party in the US.
    The question then becomes: How will the US function as a one party state.

  3. I think your analysis is partly right, but I think it's right because this is a southern seat. I don't know about Texas Latinos, but underneath all the posturing about religion and moralism and righteousness, a very large part of the southern white vote is there for the sugar.
    That's one of the hidden stories about the southern evangelical vote: the GOP held it partly by pandering to it, but also by throwing immense amounts of money at it. (Nothing like what the warlords get, but to an ordinary church operation a few hundred thousand can look really rich.) Now that they've lost the majority, the Rethugs are going to find it a lot harder to get the evangelical vote out.
    Together with the high-profile evangelical gay scandals, this might be the mechanism I've been looking for that gets the evangelicals back into their more usual pattern of political quiescence. They go through cycles of intense political activism and this one's been going on for a long time. It's due to end.

  4. The correct analogy is to neither Ahab nor Queeg, but rather to the fumblingly tyrannous Captain Morton, in the classic WWII comedy, Mr. Roberts.

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