Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Does Cooper's '94 Loss Offer a Midterm Lesson for Democrats?

Posted By on Tue, Oct 27, 2009 at 8:12 AM

click to enlarge oie_newcooper.jpg
In this column, Democratic strategist Bob Shrum makes the case that congressional Democrats will desert President Obama on health care reform at their own peril. He points to the '94 elections as proof:
First, the history. Blue Dog Democrats who abandoned Bill Clinton on health care in 1994 were conspicuous among the casualties of that November's congressional elections. Their flight from Clinton alienated Democrats without placating other voters. Just ask Senator David McCurdy of Oklahoma or Senator Jim Cooper of Tennessee. Oops, they're not Senators. Both were favorites who lost their respective races after calculated decisions to turn away from Clintoncare. If they had stayed the course, they might not have won; but in 1994, they and others proved that apostasy is not the path to victory. (McCurdy now runs a trade association. Cooper is back in Congress after eight years in the wilderness.)
I don't know about McCurdy, but this argument is preposterous as it pertains to Cooper. He lost mainly because Fred Thompson made a really good TV ad. Thompson stood next to his red pickup truck by a split-rail fence, talked directly into the camera and said exactly what nearly everyone wanted to hear in '94: Throw the bums out. As soon as that ad went on the air, Thompson's poll numbers started jumping off the charts. In the public mind, Thompson was John Wayne. Cooper was the career politician of the Thompson campaign caricature. If anything, Cooper was helped in that election by his opposition to Clintoncare. Bill Clinton was about as popular as Pol Pot in this state then. As for Shrum's larger point--"that Democrats are better off being Democrats than trying to triangulate themselves into some dubious pale blue mutation"--it's hard to know whether that's true in Tennessee. Liberals make the argument all the time. But how long has it been since anyone in Tennessee won a statewide election by running as a true Democrat?

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