Enthusiasm Gap -- Within The GOP

There's been a lot of talk this year about the "enthusiasm gap" between Republicans and Democrats, that will potentially help the GOP in November's elections. What I have not heard anyone talk about, even as they try to dissect the long string of Tea Partyish Senate primary victories, is the enthusiasm gap within the GOP itself.

I don't recall having seen any breakdown of the enthusiasm question much beyond the standard Republican/Democrat/Independent. I'd like to see it by, say, who they planned to vote for in their Senate primary, or their level of agreement with certain movement-conservative beliefs, or their opinion of Sean Hannity and Mark Levin.

I don't know what those cross-tabs would show, but as someone who read all of last year's conservative bestsellers, I can say that anyone who believes a quarter of what's in them would (quite rightly) be really, really worked up about the urgent need to oust the Democrats. (And to purge the GOP of moderates and appeasers, which as I noted in that article almost takes greater precedence for those authors.)

One question, going forward, is how that should make us redefine what we think of when we ponder how the enthusiasm gap will affect general-election turnout and voting.

That, I don't know. But I do think that it helps us understand what's been happening in Republican Senate primaries, ranging from Pat Toomey forcing Arlen Spectre out of the party, up through yesterday's close contests in Delaware and New Hampshire.

I also want to stress that what's happening in the Republican Party has been building for years -- as influence over party voters has shifted from people who want to win elections (for the power and jobs that come with it) to people who want to make money. I've been chronicling it for some time. Here's what I wrote on the eve of the 2008 election -- and as you read it, consider that perhaps the moderates haven't so much left the village, but rather are being under-represented because the zombies have more enthusiasm:

....As moderate Republicans flee the GOP Village of the Damned, they are leaving the zombies in ever-greater control of the party — and freer than ever to practice their scariest bogeyman tactics.

These radical right-wing creatures now dominate the party’s nominating process, committees, elected officials, organizers, and funders, at the national, state, and local levels, throughout the country....

Across the country, in this year’s run-up to the November election, Republican primary voters repeatedly chose unelectable hard-core conservatives over moderates to run in state, district, and local races — at times against even the open wishes of GOP brass.

“It’s amazing how far to the right the Republican candidates have been, and how out of touch with their districts,” says Michael Sargeant, executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. “There’s less and less enthusiasm for the Republican Party, so the only ones answering the call [to vote in primaries] are these very strong conservatives.”

Take New Mexico’s Senate race to replace the retiring Republican Pete Domenici, a relative moderate in a battleground state. Conservatives rallied around ultra-right-wing congressman Steve Pearce over the GOP’s preferred candidate, relatively moderate congresswoman Heather Wilson. With help from national conservative groups like Club for Growth — and despite the last-minute campaigning of Domenici himself on Wilson’s behalf — Pearce won the Republican nomination. As a result, Democrat Tom Udall is coasting to an easy victory. Not only that, but Democrats now stand a good chance of winning both House seats that Wilson and Pearce abandoned for their Senate campaigns.

A similar situation has ensured that a Democrat will win the Virginia Senate seat being vacated by another relative moderate, John Warner.

They’ve overwhelmed Republican politics everywhere, from New Hampshire, where a conservative talk-show host won the congressional primary, to Nevada, where the GOP’s control of the State Senate depends upon the re-election of two freshmen who voted in favor of the death penalty for minors and for arming schoolteachers.... The exact same behavior contributed to the enormous GOP losses two years ago.


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