Lament of the fed-up voter
FOND DU LAC, Wis. — Marv Rach spent 38 of his 69 years as a registered Democrat.
Now the Vietnam War veteran and retired factory supervisor is a Republican, not because he has a great love for that party but because his old party left him no choice, he said.
“I am not one of those ‘extreme' Republicans the media likes to pigeonhole conservatives as,” he explained. “I love my country, I fought for my country and … .”
He suddenly stopped and paused for what seemed an eternity before continuing: “In fact, to be honest with you, I don't like any political party right now. And I certainly don't like anything that has to do with Washington.”
Rach is just one example of the voters this columnist has encountered in 12 states the past year while reporting on what Americans want from the 2014 midterm elections.
The conclusion is simple but jarring: Many longtime Democrats and Republicans are shedding party loyalty because of disgust with Washington.
Their movement is populist in temperament but insulated from the usual co-opting by political organizations seeking to benefit from it.
You see, people are not simply tired of Washington; they are tired of political organizations, of the two-party system, of campaign messages designed to narrow the turnout of their opponents.
Even more, they are tired of being left behind.
These aren't just older white voters. Young people, black and Hispanic families, all voice a stunning detachment from the status quo of American politics; they yearn for something fresh, authentic, dedicated, connected to a broader swath of America.
They are especially disgusted by divisional politics, class warfare and organized protests filled with paid participants.
“Nothing feels genuine, like it means something,” said Madison, Wis., university student Dennis Brant, 19, of the protests at fast-food restaurants across the country.
These are the voters outside of Washington or the bubbles of academia and sophisticated big cities where power and wealth are the norm; the type of voters who don't look at the wealthy with envy but do look at the stock market and wonder when it will trickle down to them.
From chic farmers markets in Madison to industrial Illinois, in midsize towns of Ohio, Virginia and New York, voters' sentiments match polling data that show we are in the longest state of pessimism with Washington in modern history — and we firmly believe that Washington is not only broken but that no one is fixing it.
To a person, such voters want thoughtful leaders, not ideologues; they want elected officials to work across the aisle, want their next president to be less of a celebrity or a divider and more of a bold reformer, tough on corruption and decisive on the day's big issues.
America keeps sending messages to Washington in elections, and Washington keeps reading those votes as verification rather than repudiation.
People voted against — not for — Democrats in 2004 and 2010, and against Republicans in 2006, 2008 and 2012.
Voters are against all of them — which makes this year's midterms difficult to predict.
Because the House is a lock for Republicans, these midterms don't have a national feel, as did those of 2006 and 2010. Only seven battleground states, controlling the Senate's balance of power, will be impacted this time.
With just seven states in play, the 2014 election is merely a mini-wave with a 50/50 chance of going either way; Democrats have a ridiculous amount of money in their favor, and Republicans have a ridiculous amount of enthusiasm in theirs.
Voters think both parties have a ridiculous amount of nothing going on.
And therein lies the problem: This has been an election about nothing; mechanical and ideologically scripted, it has sucked the life out of the robust debate that American politics used to be, and has left voters searching for something new.
That sentiment is building. It is very much a case of Washington folks versus the rest of the country. Evidence of it will be found in the midterms and, because it is not a national election, both sides will claim victory.
But it will be very interesting to see how — or if — both political parties can harness it in 2016.
Salena Zito covers politics for Trib Total Media ([email protected]).