Election Winners and Losers

by Randy Shaw, 2012-11-08

Democrats won big this week, with progressives gleeful over the Senate victories of Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin. Three core Democratic constituencies particularly have much to cheer: Latinos, who are finally being recognized for changing the course of U.S. elections, labor unions, whose grassroots mobilizing made the difference in key states, and women’s health activists, who won the President’s loyalty and kept the GOP on the defensive throughout the campaign. Progressives made great gains in California, as the Governor Brown-labor alliance won Prop 30, defeated Prop 32, and helped Democrats win 2/3 control of the legislature. In San Francisco, Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisor Eric Mar were big winners, while the left crack-up in D5 brought progressive sectarianism yet another defeat.

National Winners: Latinos

The big winners in the November 2012 elections were Latino voters. They got little credit for winning four key states for Obama in 2008, but their enthusiastic and large volume voting for the President in 2012 finally became a political talking point.

Although nobody receiving regular updates from Latino Decisions was surprised by the powerful pro-Obama Latino turnout, the highly-paid television pundits seemed stunned to realize that Obama would win Florida, Virginia, Colorado and Nevada due to Latino votes.

But at least the Latino voting impact is now widely acknowledged. Even Republicans are talking about how the Party must shift its views to gain Latino support, though this point was also made and then ignored after the 2008 elections.

President Obama’s victory speech highlighted comprehensive immigration reform as part of his action plan. We may see progress on comprehensive reform sooner than many think.

Organized Labor

Labor was widely credited for Obama’s success in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and other “Rust Belt” states, but let’s not forget that California is a totally blue state because of labor’s power. Labor delivered big time for the President, but they also did so in 2008 and got little in return.

In Obama’s election eve and victory speeches, I did not hear him utter the terms “labor union” or “collective bargaining.” He spoke about the hard-working culinary workers he met in Nevada, but did not identify them as members of UNITE HERE Local 226 or even as belonging to a union. Obama also regularly touts teachers, but does not reference teachers unions.

So while labor won big in states like California where tangible results for members were achieved, it’s not clear what union-specific asks the AFL-CIO has for the President---or whether he can or will deliver.

Women’s Health Activists

When asked about what his Party needed to do differently, MSNBC’s Republican pundit Steve Schmidt noted the GOP’s failure to take on outrageous attacks such as when Rush Limbaugh called the young woman health activist Sandra Fluke a “slut” for favoring free contraception.

We’ve come a long way from the days when Democratic presidential candidates were reluctant to promote such “social issues” as contraception and abortion rights. Obama’s election eve speech cited “funding Planned Parenthood” as one of his core values that he would never surrender on. This is a tribute to the many young women like Fluke who are outspoken in fighting to prevent employers and politicians from controlling their bodies.

National Losers: Crybaby Billionaires

Freed from constraint by Citizens United, the nation’s version of the billionaire boys club spend hundreds of millions of dollars to defeat Barack Obama and have nothing to show for it. Enchanted by the siren promises of Karl Rove, they threw good money after bad and ended up alienating even moderate Democrats who once protected their interests.

Charles Munger and his family spent an estimated $50 million trying to keep California in a fiscal ditch. And the landslide defeat of Molly Munger’s Prop 38 showed what voters thought of her efforts.

Obama benefitted every time Donald Trump opened his mouth, and Sheldon Adelson’s $54 million in donations this year could not change Jewish voters in Florida from backing Obama by a 40% margin (a one-sided result predicted by Florida’s Congressmember Robert Wexler weeks ago).

Obama tried to woo Wall Street after taking office, taking hits from his base only to see Goldman Sachs et al turn against him. The billionaires spent a fortune alienating a president they once had as an ally, and that may make this group the biggest losers of all.

Social Conservatives

With all four gay marriage initiatives winning after 33 straight defeats, anti-gay attitudes no longer have much political support. The conservative social agenda, which includes attacks on immigrants, is keeping Republicans from winning the White House; don’t be surprised if the GOP’s economic libertarian wing under Paul Ryan throws the social conservatives under the bus, despite their personal support for the right-wing social agenda.

Reality Deniers

It’s hard to argue that a majority of voters support your agenda when an election says otherwise. Add the Republican presidential defeat to the licking climate change deniers took after Hurricane Sandy and you have the GOP world of reality deniers in deep depression.

San Francisco Winners

San Francisco Mayor Lee saw all of his ballot measures pass, and handily. Eric Mar won a surprisingly easy victory over David Lee, and if F.X. Crowley wins in D7 it is the local surprise of the election cycle (and he currently leads). A big win for Rafael Mandelman at the College Board, a race that showed the importance of key slate cards in down ballot contests.

San Francisco Losers: The Left Crack Up in D5

The biggest losers in San Francisco were the progressive sectarians who figured out a way to elect a moderate in a district previously represented by Matt Gonzalez and Ross Mirkarimi.

Christina Olague was appointed to the seat, and given her progressive history, the surest strategy for ensuring a progressive victory for a full four year term was to unify around her candidacy. But some progressives disqualified Olague because she was supported by Mayor Lee, Willie Brown and Rose Pak, while others ruled her out because she voted for 8 Washington.

As a result, Olague faced a competitive race against a crowded field. London Breed had long planned to run in D5, and her connections in the district made her a leading contender. Julian Davis also planned to run, and they were joined by John Rizzo and Thea Selby.

Tim Redmond and Steve Jones got the progressive sectarian crack-up rolling when they found Olague unworthy of even a third-choice Bay Guardian endorsement. The two were so intent on defeating Olague and sending a message to Mayor Lee that he should not bother appointing progressives that they even picked Selby, lacking any track record with progressive groups, over Olague.

The SF Tenants Union followed the Bay Guardian’s lead in making Davis their top choice, even though Olague had a long history of tenant activism and Davis had none (Olague was their second choice). Supervisor John Avalos also picked Davis over Olague, as did the Harvey Milk Club, despite Olague’s queer sexual orientation.

Davis, Rizzo and their “progressive” allies blocked Olague’s endorsement by the local Democratic Party (which made no endorsement in D5), and prevented her from getting other key endorsements. Davis was having trouble raising money, Rizzo had no visible campaign, but the progressive sectarians favored both over Olague as the “progressive” choice.

After Redmond and Jones yanked Davis’ Bay Guardian endorsement, Avalos switched to Olague. Yet Davis remained the SF Tenants Union’s top choice, and Olague remained off the Bay Guardian slate card entirely as Redmond and Jones continued to view Selby as a better progressive choice and Olague as unacceptable.

As all this is going on, D5 progressives failed to implement a ranked choice voting strategy. Olague and Rizzo eventually agreed to be each other’s second choice, but over half his voters picked neither Breed or Olague and had their ballots exhausted while the other half split between their votes between these two. Davis was not part of any ranked-choice strategy, and 25% of his voters did not choose another candidate.

Ultimately, Olague was too weak to overcome a lack of endorsements and the lack of a coordinated progressive ranked-choice voting strategy. She was not well known in the district, is not strong on people skills, and failed to wage the type of door-to-door, meet every voter campaign that brought victory to Scott Wiener, Malia Cohen, Jane Kim and, yes, London Breed.

I thought Olague would still win because I mistakenly thought Breed had alienated too many African-American voters by her personal attacks on Willie Brown. I should have given more credit to all the reports I was getting on the strength of her campaign. But Breed was always Olague's closest competitor, and the progressive sectarians who worked to undermine Olague--- and succeeded--- have only themselves to blame as they express remorse for Breed’s election.