The Ohio Vote

I would have expected Pravda-on-the-Hudson to single out for emphasis Tuesday’s referendum in Ohio on the public-sector collective-bargaining reform and to cite it as a harbinger of an Obama victory in Ohio in 2012, as in its pages Katherine Q. Seelye did. She was not, however, the only reporter to comment. In a news analysis in that paper not cited by Peter Robinson in his post earlier today, Michael D. Shear was much more cautious. As he put it,

The enthusiastic Democratic analysis [of Tuesday’s referenda and elections] leaves out some trouble spots for the party as it heads into a presidential and Congressional election year. And it may overstate the importance of victories that were heavily influenced by local factors that will be less important during a national campaign in 2012.

In Ohio, voters who rejected the Republican governor’s anti-union law also easily passed a measure that rejects health care mandates in the state — another sign of how unpopular Mr. Obama’s health care measure is in many parts of the country. . . .

And the union vote in that state — while a significant victory for labor, a key constituency for the president — played out in recent weeks as a very Ohio contest — highly personal (about the governor, John R. Kasich) and heavily dependent on local dynamics involving the state’s firefighters and police officers.

Even Democrats in the state acknowledged on Tuesday evening that their victory may have been the result of a curious mix of local factors.

It is, in fact, striking that, while 61% of those who cast ballots on the public-sector collective-bargaining issue voted to overturn the reform pushed by John Kasich and the Republicans in the legislature, 66% voted against Obamacare – this at a time in which the unions spent $30 million dollars on their campaign, and the Republicans spent next to nothing. To his analysis, Shear adds this:

The biggest warning sign for Democrats may have been in Virginia, where major Republican gains in the state legislature highlighted just how competitive that state remains — and how difficult it will be for Mr. Obama to keep the state’s 13 electoral votes in his column next year.

Virginia Republicans made big gains in the House of Delegates, moving toward a two-thirds majority in the House. And they may have seized effective control of the State Senate from the Democrats; a Republican challenger in a crucial Northern Virginia exurb was just a handful of votes ahead of a Democratic incumbent Wednesday morning.

The real story in Ohio is that John Kasich failed to make his case. He may have overreached, as many now argue. But I am not at all sure about that. Politics turns on persuasion. Measures need to be explained, and in the circumstances in which we now operate one needs to have a war-chest to deploy in purchasing spots on the radio and on television in which to make one’s argument. This Kasich and the Republicans failed to do.

Down the road, I fear that this means that Ohio will go the way of Illinois. In the Midwest, Indiana and Wisconsin are the places in which to do business. Illinois is on the trajectory pioneered by Greece, as are California and New York. Ohio has just decided to follow suit. Ten years from now, some corners of this country will be nightmarish. Others will flourish – and Ohioans will remember John Kasich as a man who tried to do the right thing but lacked the moxie, the drive, and the eloquence to carry the citizens of Ohio with him.

If this event has any significance at all for 2012, it is to remind us that – without a standard-bearer capable of articulating the principles underpinning conservatism and of shifting national sentiment on the larger questions we now face – we will fail. It is not enough to win elections. One must also win the argument. Indeed, if one wins the argument, it does not matter all that much who wins elections. They will be confined in what they do by public sentiment. The worst thing that we could possibly do is to nominate for the Presidency a woman or man who is incapable of making the conservative argument or unwilling to do so.