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Sobering and Encouraging News From the 2010 Midterm Elections – Guest Column by Professor Charles J. Ogletree, Jr.

The November 2010 elections had a lot of interesting results. First, it is clear that the Tea Party movement must be taken seriously,
Because it galvanized support around the country and removed Democrats and Republicans from incumbency positions.

More importantly, it was clear that much of the country was sour on the economic woes, searching for more jobs, and hoping to find ways to get our dollar moving in right direction. Despite the incredible efforts by President Obama in achieving significant economic success with the approval of the $800 billion stimulus and the new health-care bill, many saw the effort as reckless spending by Democrats rather than
meeting the critical needs to save jobs and improve the health of our nation’s people.
President Obama heard the criticism loud and clear and has not only agreed to work with Republicans, but has also called for meetings in November with the top Republican leadership.

This is a positive and encouraging sign. Despite the overall success of Republicans by reclaiming leadership in the House, Democrats still have a narrow lead in the Senate and will still be able to insist that parties come together to meet the enormous challenges that our economy faces.

There may well be some sunshine behind these dark clouds. The states of MA, CA, and NY remain largely Democratic. Barbara Boxer and Jerry Brown won important positions against strenuous and expensive opponents to become California’s Democratic Senator and Governor, respectively.

At the same time, Andrew Cuomo was elected as the new Governor of New York, and both Senators Schumer and Gillibrand were re-elected to terms in the Senate.

Furthermore, MA had a clean sweep. After the shocking Scott Brown victory just months ago, Governor Deval Patrick, the first African American governor of the state, was reelected by a considerable margin, and all eight of the Ddemocratic House members were re-elected, several of whom faced their first serious challenges in many years.

Massachusetts is different, of course, but the Scott Brown victory, carried as it was by strong Tea Party support, was supposed to be a road map of sorts for Republicans to make serious inroads. Instead, the results, including the staggering defeat of initiatives to roll back affordable housing and the state sales tax suggest that voters understand the complexities of issues beyond sound bites.

Indeed, although Republican Charlie Baker sought to paint Deval Patrick as a colossal failure, voters repeatedly praised the governor for his steady hand in difficult times and thought that he deserved another term in office.

As was true for Deval Patrick this year in Massachusetts, 2012 will be a defining year for both President Obama and his future leadership, as well as for the Democratic Party’s ability to regain control over two branches of government.

If there is any chance of securing the presidency in 2012 and maintaining the Senate as well as possibly reconfiguring the House, it will require action on at least two levels.

In terms of policy, Democrats will have to articulate a compelling economic platform, supported by significant job growth in addition to demonstrating more genuine determination to address the obvious frustration and anger that is so prevalent in this country.

In terms of voter outreach, President Obama and his fellow Democrats will have to tap into the enthusiasm he was able to create with voters in 2008 generally and especially with
black and young voters.

Again, contrary to popular caricatures, Massachusetts can stand as a bellwether. Going into the election the prevailing opinion was that here, as across the nation, Republicans would be swept into office on the tide of an enthusiasm gap. The expectation was that their emotional support for their candidates would motivate their voters to the polls in overwhelming numbers.

I am not a polling expert, but while that may have been the case elsewhere in the country, here in Massachusetts we did in fact have near record turnout and the results suggest that the enthusiasm gap may not be as large as projected.

Charles J. Ogletree is Jesse Climenko Professor at Harvard Law School, the founder of the school’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, and the author of numerous books on legal topics.

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