The election results on Tuesday strongly indicated that the political tide is turning against the Democrats just one year after they swept into office on a wave of "hope" with Barack Obama. Of course it's best to take these off year election trends with a grain of salt, since political situations are always very fluid and this year's hero can become next year's goat with amazing speed. Still, the Republican romp at the polls earlier this week should give Democrats reason to pause and reappraise their own electoral safety.
Locally this translates into the surprising development of two - count 'em TWO - people stepping forward to run against entrenched incumbent Congressman Richard Neal, who really hasn't had a strong head to head contest for re-election since Tony Ravosa in 1992. One challenger is Dr. Jay Fleitman, who is the current head of the Board of Health in Northampton.
The other is Navy vet Tom Wesley, shown below.
It is hard to tell at this point who is ahead in the contest for the Republican nomination, but for whatever it's worth Wesley has 103 Facebook friends while Fleitman has only a dozen. On the other hand, the Republican establisment seems to like Dr. Fleitman, as indicated by $250 campaign contributions from both George W. Bush and John McCain as well as this photo of Fleitman posing with Michael Steele, the national head of the Republican Party.
From what I've seen, I agree that Fleitman appears to be the stronger candidate. His MD status and already holding a public position in Northampton give him a stature Wesley does not, at least not in this early phase of things. On the other hand, despite his status as a complete unknown Wesley appears to have a lot of initial enthusiasm behind his campaign. In any case the need for a primary will help whichever candidate wins the nomination, because the contest will create media buzz that will give the winner a higher profile and name recognition than they would have had were there no primary. That assumes of course that Fleitman and Wesley have the sense to focus their attacks on Neal and not on each other.
In any case it is nothing short of delightful that after nearly two decades of getting a virtual free ride to Congress, that Richie Neal will finally have to stand before the voters and explain to them why he deserves another term. And best of all he will have to do so while debating an opponent who will no doubt ask him the hard questions our local media has rarely done.
So how is Neal responding to his challengers so far? By playing it very safe. In accordance with the standard incumbent's political playbook, he is refusing to even acknowledge the existence of his opponents until he absolutely has to, lest he give them any free publicity. Neal's office even refused to respond when the newspaper for UMass, where Neal teaches a journalism class called him to question him about Fleitman. But what he's really been doing is grabbing as much money as he can with both hands. According to the Worcester Telegram:
U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Springfield, has accumulated the fourth-largest campaign war chest among House incumbents so far in the 2010 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan organization that analyzes the campaign finance reports filed by candidates with the Federal Election Commission.
Mr. Neal, who has $2.7 million in cash on hand and has raised almost $750,000 so far this year, is far ahead of the other Massachusetts congressmen, none of whom even makes the top 25 on the list of largest war chests, according to OpenSecrets.org, the center’s Web site.
Mr. Neal, whose district spans the region from Springfield to Milford, is also the only area representative with opposition in 2010. Two candidates — Jay Fleitman and Tom Wesley — are seeking the Republican nomination.
Neal has raised the fourth largest war chest in the entire Congress? That kind of frenzied fundraising makes it look as if Neal's afraid of something. It can't be that he's intimidated by the fundraising of his opponents. Fleitman has reported raising around $35 thousand dollars so far and Wesley $21 thousand. Meanwhile Neal raised nearly $750 thousand dollars in the same period.
But that huge advantage hasn't stopped Neal from collecting as much money as he can from anywhere he can get it. That's because in these uncertain political times just about anything can happen. If the unemployment rate remains above ten percent going into the elections a year from now, there may be a tidal wave of anti-incumbent sentiment that no campaign war chest, however large, can protect him from. That makes the GOP nomination seem less like a booby prize and more like a ticket to ride into Congress.
From the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal:
What was learned Tuesday is that the American voter is absolutely, totally, unremittingly disgusted with both political parties. More than anything, the American voter is desperate for political leadership.
Independent voters are spooked and on the run, a political stampede that veered left in November 2008 and now right a mere year later. They will keep running - crushing incumbents, candidates and political models of the left and right - through 2010 and onto 2012 until they find a person or party capable of leadership appropriate to our unsettled times.
And what do we call it when we reach that point when the public finally dumps the Democrats and Republicans and goes looking for a third alternative? We call it "the libertarian moment."
A rare photograph has surfaced of WHMP talker Monte Belmonte with hair! Apparently he never did have much of it, as seen in this photo of him smoking a hookah in what appears to be a sleazy bathroom somewhere. Since he is simultaneously smoking a tobacco cigarette, what's in the pipe?
Incidentally, people have been so busy bashing Maine for its anti-gay vote that they've neglected to notice a victory against the Drug War in that state. Terry Franklin of Amherst explains:
There were 2 victories in Tuesday's election. Question 5 in Maine passed with 58% of the vote -- expanding the medical marijuana laws in that state, and legalizing dispensaries. In Breakenridge, Colorado, the town voted with an astounding 73% to legalize marijuana (under an ounce). This is not decriminalization, it's legalization, there is no fine. Of course, this puts them in direct confrontation with state and federal officials. The fear of such preemption usually gets voters to oppose any such measures, even if they support legalization philosophically. The fact that so many supported open conflict is delicious! The people are so far ahead of the legislators on this issue.
WE ARE ALL CREATURES OF FAME LIGHTNESS AND LIBERTY.