Shorter John Laird, editorial page editor for The Columbian: it’s all George W. Bush’s fault.
Still, if Clark County is red, how do we explain Barack Obama carrying the county by 6 percentage points? That question is easy to answer. This result doesn’t say nearly as much about Obama or about Clark County as it says about President George W. Bush. In fact, I suspect a lot of America’s breathless infatuation over Obama might actually be — deep down — an opinion about Bush.
If my theory is correct, then Bush’s drop in local popularity has been dramatic, almost pathetic. He carried the county by 5.4 percentage points in 2004 and by 4 points in 2000.
For what it’s worth, there is likely a kernel of truth there, as “Brand Republican” has been severely damaged, not only by Bush but by Republican extremism up and down the ticket. This is a hard blow for some Republicans, who seem to invest an inordinate amount of psychic energy in being perceived as the dominant tribe. A lot of the rash and uncivil statements emanating from the conservative noise machine are likely the product of this slightly strange fetishization.
For several cycles now a prominent local Republican Party activist has been repeatedly quoted in the newspaper saying, essentially, that Clark County is a Republican county. This was never all that true, as effective Democratic candidates like Brian Baird and Craig Pridemore, and many others, were elected to office. Candidates with good name ID (especially incumbents) always do well most places, especially here in a county dominated by media from another state. There’s a good reason the landscape is dominated by 4 x 8 political signs during election season.
Clark is a suburban swing county overall, with predictable party trends in the more urban and rural areas. Incumbents are hard to beat, meaning most of the big battles are over open seats. In that regard, the Democrats picked up a state House seat in the “swingy” 17th LD with the victory of Tim Probst, and might or might not pick up a county commissioner seat pending a likely recount. The more rural 18th LD is completely a lost cause as it is currently drawn, and the opposite is true in the urban 49th LD.
So the real issue for Democrats here is how to continue recruiting quality candidates who will be in position to take advantage of open seats.
Correction– Technically, Democrats would not be picking up a county commission seat in Clark County if Democrat Pam Brokaw defeats Republican Tom Mielke after a recount, as the retiring incumbent is Betty Sue Morris, D-BIAW. But in real world terms it would be a pickup for Democrats if Brokaw won.