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Seven Lessons From 2010 Midterm Elections: President Obama to Marco Rubio and The Tea Party

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Two years ago this week, triumphant Democrats were throwing around the word “realignment,” as in the kind of Democratic majority that could endure for a generation or more. Wednesday morning, those same Democrats awoke to find that their majority had not lasted for even another election cycle. The Democrats got thumped, losing at least 60 seats in the House and 6 seats in the Senate.

congress fired

Bob Dylan said it best…”For the times they are a changing”.

With that said, the 2012 campaign has just started hours ago. Any prospects for public office in 2012 may want to heed the lessons of 2010:

1. You gotta carry the independent vote.  Democrats had a great election cycle in 2008 due to support from independent voters. However, the single biggest factor in the GOP's victories was its striking gain among political independents. By 55% to 39%, more independents voted for the Republican candidate this year; four years ago, independents favored the Democrat by nearly an identical margin (57% to 39%). And just two years ago, Barack Obama won the votes of independents (by 52% to 44%) on his way to the White House.

2. The Democrats need to energize the youth vote to be successful.  Always a reliable voting bloc for the Democrats, the 18-29 year old demographic was not excited by the 2010 midterms. In 2008, they made up 18% of the electorate, but only 11% in 2010. Notice the chart below:

Exit Poll Chart 2010

3. Republicans should not overreach: "The election was first and foremost a referendum on the policies of President Obama and congressional Democrats, not a vote of approval of Republican policies." say the editors of The Washington Times.  Oh, voters want change, says Karen Tumulty at The Washington Post. But they want both Democrats and Republicans to get their acts together. This is the third election in a row in which Americans have "kicked a political party out of power." The GOP will only face the same rebuke in two years unless they see that what voters really dislike is "overreaching" by either party.

4. Sorry media pundits, the Tea Party is for real.  In spite of earlier attempts by some media outlets, especially MSNBC, to portray the Tea Party as nothing but a bunch of ignorant racists, they showed their true strength on Tuesday.  It looks like "Republicans and Democrats alike may have underestimated the power of the Tea Party," says Michael Cooper in The New York Times. What was once a loose-knit "coalition of grass-roots libertarians and disaffected Republicans" is now a bona fide political force.  Indeed, rising star Marco Rubio won praise for his own American Dream–centered victory speech. He could well be "the Tea Party’s brightest rising star," says Peter Grier in The Christian Science Monitor. "Man, he's smooth," says The Guardian's Richard Adams, "Bill Clinton smooth." He can say basically "the same thing as Rand Paul but without sounding like a fruitcake."

5. Okay, some of the Tea Party Candidates were a little out of touch. Some Tea Party candidates, such as Christine O'Donnell in Delaware and Sharron Angle in Nevada, threw away Senate seats more moderate Republicans could have won easily. Democrats, at least in the Senate, have the Tea Party to thank for their razor thin majority—this could have easily lost it had the Republicans nominated more traditional candidates in Delaware and Nevada.

6. It really is the economy, stupid: This election is not a mandate for Republican ideals, says Stephen Stromberg at The Washington Post. "Unemployment is near 10 percent," and Americans predictably took their fears about the economy into the voting booth. This was a horrible year "to be an incumbent of the ruling party," and there wasn't much Democrats could have done to change the math. Of course the economy was foremost on voters' minds, says Michael Tanner at National Review, but that doesn't make this "unprecedented electoral victory" meaningless. Voters were willing to "swallow their doubts about Republicans and give them another chance because Democratic economic policies had failed so miserably." Now the GOP must deliver jobs by cutting spending, taxes, and regulation.

7. Get ready for another health-care reform fight: Last year Democrats went against the will of the majority of the voters and passed a massive healthcare reform law. Conservatives had a field day playing sound bites of Democrats who never bothered to read the bill.

Many of these Democrats paid for their partisan decision to back Obamacare-- Exit polls found that 48 percent of voters want the reform law repealed. The GOP won't be able to "stop the law" outright, says Jennifer Haberkorn at Politico.  “Day One, I would imagine there is a one-sentence repeal bill, whether it’s H.R. 1 or 2 or 3,” said Michael Franc, vice president of government relations at the conservative Heritage Foundation. But it will be a largely symbolic measure since repeal is unlikely to pass the Senate. And even if it passed the Democratic controlled Senate, President Barack Obama wouldn’t let a full repeal bill past his veto pen.

Okay….hopefully any would be candidates in 2012 have studied these seven lessons. Unfortunately, given the malleable nature of our nation’s politics, the rules will probably be completely different in 2012.

Email Erik Uliasz at euliasz@philly2philly.com