It is a hard time to be a Democrat, particularly if you are hoping to see progress on a host of issues before Congress. I can call my representatives till I am blue in the face (so to speak), yet it won’t make any difference. They already share my worldview; they just can’t advance any controversial issue in that representative body.
Being mostly, but not completely, in power nationally can be more frustrating than being out of power. You are often blamed for things that everyone thinks you control even though you don’t. This means there is a great possibility of backlash against you for something clearly outside of your control. It is also possible to have a majority of the country on your side on an issue, again giving you the illusion of control. Yet you can’t make progress because the opposition is more focused and fervent. Nowhere is the Blue State Blues worse than on the issue of guns.
While we were rightly focused on the primaries in New York and here, two recall elections took place in Colorado that serve as a warning to Democrats in our state. The Colorado legislature passed a gun control bill last year that was similar to ours and, as a consequence, two Democratic legislators who voted for the bill faced a recall. They were both defeated a week ago.
The recipe for Democratic defeat was quite simple, even in Colorado districts that are about as Democratic as the state of Connecticut. State Senator leader John Morse was from a district in which Obama received 59 percent and state Senator Angela Giron was from a district in which Obama received 58 percent. Both lost. One race was very close the other was not.
The recipe for the defeats: turnout is low, Democratic turnout is lower, and a highly motivated group of voters opposed to gun control (even if they are comfortable with what is actually in the bill) comes out in force. When this happens, gun advocates can make legislators tremble at their political clout. All the power of persuasion and appealing to better angels simply goes out the window. Look at the U.S. Congress. Even after the Newtown shooting, it has been immune to pleas for action. Another horrific mass shooting as we had this week — and, tragically, are likely to have again — is unlikely to move the federal legislature.
Connecticut has so far been untouched by the worst of the pro-gun hysteria. The reality is, however, that in a gubernatorial election that is shaping up to be very tight, an improved pro-gun turnout could be just the thing that tips the balance.
Even outside of a gun control context, low turnout already plagues Democrats in non-Presidential election years, and may be even more of a factor this year. Frustration, whether over the budget, or guns, or climate change, or immigration, or the inability to get anything done on anything, is a recipe for the kind of apathy that can take down elected officials who would otherwise seem safe.
Anyone who thinks that the partisan lean of a district or state means automatic security should just look to Colorado. Republicans have their own set of challenges but those challenges should not lead Democrats to feel confident and become complacent.
Jason Paul of West Hartford is a partner in a campaign consulting company called What’s Next. He is also a student at the University of Connecticut Law School.