TW: sexism, heterosexism, class warfare, sexual assault
It might not seem to be the case, given my past coverage of the election next week, but with five days to go it has to be said: this election is much bigger than a presidential race. And I don’t just mean that the ramifications of the presidential race will extend to every corner of society and well into the future (which is always true), but that there are a variety of local races that will conclude on Tuesday that have national importance. Here’s a quick run-down of the key issues as far as I can see, most of which are getting little air time compared to the presidential races.
1. The Future is Joaquín Castro
In Texas’ 20th congressional district, Joaquín Castro, currently a state representative of an overlapping area, reminds many people of a pre-presidential Barack Obama. In his first run for a federal office, we’ll have a bit of a test to see if he can pull off a similarly impressive landslide even for a relatively Democratic urban district. The bar has been set very high, so it’ll be interesting to see how well this rising star of the Democratic Party does. To beat Obama’s record, he’ll have to garner more than 73 percent of his districts votes. He actually beat that percentage while running for his current office in 2010, so it’s not out of the question though.
2. The California Three
If you’re at all familiar with California, you realize that the idea of it as uniformly liberal and Democratic is actually unfounded. As Five Thirty Eight pointed out last month, the state is starkly divided between progressive coastal cities and very conservative inland populations. In the wake of overhauling the districts’ boundaries, both parties are now scrambling for a small number of contested seat falling between the generally Democratic coast and largely Republican interior. Three races – in the seventh, tenth, and forty-first congressional districts – show a concerted effort by Democrats to offer progressive policies to historically marginalized inland populations and push inward. The respective Democratic candidates are Ami Bera, José Hérnandez, and Mark Takano – all the sons of immigrants with a specific favorite issue to push.
(Five Thirty Eight’s electoral graph of California’s counties)
Bera is second only to Barack Obama in demanding for his daughters and wife to have equal ability to participate in US politics, and he has unleashed a fierce ad campaign over the Republican incumbent’s support for stricter regulations on access to abortion even in cases of sexual assault. Hérnandez, the son of farm workers who became an astronaut, has emphasized the need for equal access to education as the route he used and others need to escape systemic poverty. Mark Takano has stressed the need for substantive LGBT* rights and environmental regulations. Each of these candidates touch on other major issues as well, including the ones favored by other members of the “California Three”. Individually and as a unit they present a strong case for social reform to traditionally more centrist or conservative parts of California. It’ll be interesting to see what sort of in roads they hopefully make.
3. A Nation-Wide Rebuke of the Tea Party?
Throughout the country, there’s a bit of a backlash brewing against the more conservative members of the Republican Party, promising to make several local races rather interesting. In Senate races, Elizabeth Warren’s challenge to Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, who has managed to annoy seemingly every large but marginalized social group, seems to embody this on the national stage. Likewise, in Pennsylvania and Tennessee House races, Kathy Boockvar and Eric Stewart are challenging Representatives Mike Fitzpatrick and Scott DesJarlais, respectively, in part over their misogynistic conduct. Fitzpatrick has managed to incite a backlash against him because of his terrible policies, while DesJarlais is under fire for arranging for his mistress to have an abortion after she became pregnant (in spite of being vehemently opposed to elective abortions as policy).
Other races, however, are less of a reaction to existing policy or hypocrisy, and seemingly more about anticipation of future political decisions by further “right” politicians. In Nebraska, the competition between Republican Deb Fischer and Democrat Bob Kerrey has tightened considerably, seemingly as Fischer has drawn criticism even without having held the office yet. Similarly, Texan Representative Lamar Smith faced primary challenges and now a potential third party spoiler over his sponsorship of SOPA and support for PIPA which could allow Democrat Candace Duval to pull ahead. Neither bill became law of course, but the backlash he’s received for his key involvement with drafting both threatens his chance of reelection. Likewise, we can hope that Republican candidate Richard Mourdock’s insensitive comments on sexual assault will cost him the position of Indiana Senator, although with it so close to the election, it might not have time to move public perception and support towards Democratic candidate Joe Donnelly.
All of these races have the potential for frankly dangerous incumbents who support restricting many or all Americans’ freedoms to be replaced by much more progressive Senators and Representatives.
4. Democratic Incumbents in “Middle America”
Of course, this election isn’t just about struggling to overcome sexist, heterosexist, cissexist, racist, and classist political ideologies, but also retain positions held by reformers against reactionary challengers. In Ohio, Senator Sherrod Brown is fighting to hold onto his seat against challenger Josh Mandel, whose stance on economic issues is at this point well known to the working Ohioan families he would represent. In Missouri, Senator Claire McCaskill is facing off against challenger Todd Akin, who is now nationally known as the “legitimate rape” guy. The controversy even has its own Wikipedia page. Whether these two candidates can retain their positions will directly impact the Senate’s capacity to create policies that challenge class inequality and sexism.
5. The Future of Marriage
In addition to competition between candidates in various states, four different state propositions that will be tested on Tuesday will check current political attitudes towards same-sex marriage. In Maryland, Maine, and Washington, voters will have the option to legally sanction same-sex marriages at the local level, while Minnesota voters will have to decide whether to amend their state constitution to ban same-sex marriages. This is an interesting test to see what difference is made by the four years separating next Tuesday from California’s proposition 8, the now public support of same-sex marriage by the sitting president, and numerous public heel-face-turns on the issue. In light of those changes, it’s also an interesting test of Nate Silver’s past predictions of public sentiment on the issue.
6. Two Visions of California
I’ve written before about one Californian proposition on the ballot next week that would be historic, but there’s another one as well. Proposition 37 would be the first major effort to install mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods and food additives, which would place a new check on the biotechnology industry’s power. In contrast, Proposition 32 would harshly restrict labor unions’ main political strategies, while leaving corporate political powers largely unrestricted. California has a choice between leading the rest of the United States towards a better model of corporate regulation or following the failed model of Wisconsin that’s been promoted by Arizonan donors.