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September 11, 2013 11:17 AM Perfect Landscape For the Bad Guys

By Ed Kilgore

It will be all too easy for pundits to personalize last night’s scattered election returns as “Mike Bloomberg’s very bad day.” After all, the candidate most identified with demands for a decisive break with Bloomberg’s policies either won the Democratic mayoral primary, or will enter a runoff as the prohibitive favorite (against the guy who ran against Bloomberg four years ago). Meanwhile, in a direct mano a mano clash with the National Rifle Association in Colorado over the recall of two Democratic state senators who voted for gun legislation, Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns lost despite heavy expenditures.

But it’s a good idea not to personalize or identify these two separate events.

We’ll talk about the New York mayoral race later, but the Colorado recall elections call for particularly careful scrutiny. What makes the result a bit shocking it that for once supporters of common-sense gun regulation were well-organized and funded, largely thanks to Bloomberg’s group. Because the result was the same as always, It’s easy to just throw up your hands and say that no matter what public opinion polls show, the gun lobby is going to win every ballot test outside metropolitan areas because of the intensity of its following.

But as TNR’s Alec MacGillis points out in his very thorough piece on the Colorado campaign, there was nothing “normal” about the landscape of this fight:

“The gun lobby chose their targets well,” Mark Glaze, the director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, told me last night. “These are tough districts with a lot of guns.” More generally, he said, “It’s the kind of political tactic the gun lobby specializes in, low-turnout elections where the only people interested at the beginning of the process are people who want to throw people out….”
Further playing to their advantage, recall supporters succeeded in barring the use of mail-in ballots, the way that a majority of Coloradans now vote in normal elections.

In stressing the circumstances that made the landscape difficult in Colorado, I’m not making excuses; au contraire, I simply want to draw attention to the fact that progressives chronically have a hard time winning ballot tests in competitive territory in anything other than presidential elections. Much of that has to do with the eternal reluctance to participate in midterm or offyear or special elections by the younger and minority voters who are disproportionately represented in the Democratic Party and progressive causes. That’s the practical reason (added to the moral reasons) why fights over voting procedures are extremely important, and why old-school and new-school voter mobilization techniques are more crucial for the Left than for the Right.

Yes, the landscape in Colorado was perfect for the bad guys. But it’s rarely going to be ideal, and the good guys need to start winning some of these close special elections if only to change the perception that they are always waiting for the next presidential election for anything good to happen.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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