There is a moment, at the end of the 1972 political satire, “The Candidate,” when a political agnostic, played by Robert Redford, has just learned his improbable campaign for U.S. senator was successful. He won! So he turns to a savvy political operative, (a bearded Peter Boyle) and says plaintively:
“What do we do now?”
Ah, yes. Now. The yard signs go into the recycle bin, and the confetti is swept away. All that money that went into a bruising campaign season has dissolved like dew, and now we get to the point of it all.
Or so one would hope.
Let’s take a moment to examine what we’ve learned during this interminably confusing election season.
- While there is a definite MAGA contingent in the state, the words and deeds of Donald Trump are not terribly welcome here. Witness the fizzled senatorial campaign of Trump-endorsed Leora Levy, a former Republican fundraiser who ran on Trump Lite behavior that never quite caught on. In her defense, Levy, at least, conceded when she lost to incumbent Sen. Richard Blumenthal. Daniel Miressi, who launched a Trumpian campaign of his own against incumbent Sen. Bob Duff in the 25th district, was also roundly trounced, but his Twitter feed on Wednesday morning gave indications that he wouldn’t accept reality. This is on brand, but reality has a way of sinking in and when that happens, his supporters among the toy soldiers of the Three Percenters can comfort him.
- All that campaign money – and this is a bit of an evergreen lesson – could easily be spent elsewhere. Both gubernatorial candidates, Gov. Ned Lamont, the victor, and his forever-opponent, Bob Stefanowski, set spending records for candidates not encumbered by a primary. Surely, with the housing crisis in the state, schools in need of basic supplies, and mental health clinics we can’t seem to build or staff, there’s a better way to spend money.
- This midterm wasn’t your grandmother’s midterm – or even that of your older cousin. Most midterms are quiet affairs, with relatively low voter interest or turnout. But the potentially disappointing decisions from a conservative Supreme Court – and not just overturning Roe v. Wade – may have helped bring voters out in force. Secretary of the State Mark Kohler predicted high turnout before the election, and he was right. Case in point? In Essex, where I was an election worker, nearly 20% of the eligible voters had already cast their ballots by 10 a.m., and that was not including absentee ballots. Other towns reported similar numbers. Lines of voters during a midterm! For crying out loud! Dare we hope this is a sign of things to come, of increased voter engagement?
- It may be too early to suggest this, but it is possible women played a significant role in this election (see No. 3). Another case in point, out of Essex: Connecticut allows same-day registration. Early the morning of election day, a man who looked to be well into his 60s came upstairs in the town hall (voters vote downstairs, in the auditorium) to the registrars’ office to register and vote. He was a little sheepish, and said he’d never registered before, but that if he didn’t vote this election, his girlfriend would never speak to him again. He was registered and instructed in the procedure of filling out his ballot. He left to fill out the ballot, came back, and placed the sealed envelope that contained his ballot in the metal ballot box. Afterward, he asked for a sticker. I gave him two. He also asked for a photo, and he handed me his phone. He was concerned his girlfriend would think the stickers were fake and he wanted an irrefutable record of his civic duty.
- You can watch “The Candidate” and giggle at the ham-handed, no-nuance sermons about democracy and truth, but the political climate hasn’t changed all that much. We have corruption. We have liars. We have a soul-crushing campaign process.
In fact, I would love to see a sequel to the movie, which premiered just weeks after the arrest of the burglars who pillaged the Watergate office of the Democratic National Committee. That arrest led to nearly 70 indictments and almost 50 convictions, as well as the resignation of President Richard Nixon, who faced certain impeachment.
It also led to a national comeuppance that included a slew of laws passed to prevent such thievery from ever happening again. The January 6th insurrection and the bloated regime of Donald Trump could have proven such a catalyst. What we’ve settled for is an unexpectedly strong Democratic Party, which had a better showing on Tuesday than pollsters predicted.
In the short term, the what-now for successful candidates is that they understand we will remember those campaign promises they made. So what do they do now? Get busy. We’re watching.