Tuesday, August 5, 2014

What Tester-Rehberg taught us about Montana and what it can tell us about the current Senate race

A short post tonight as I sit and contemplate developments in the 2014 Montana Senate Race. This is from the penultimate chapter of my forthcoming book, Battle for the Big Sky, available from CQ Press in December. It says why campaigns still matter in an age of ever-more precise forecasting, and the importance of relationships--to place and to constituents.

"Nate Silver's 2012 Senate predictions missed the mark in Montana and North Dakota. He gave Congressman Rehberg a 66 percent chance of besting Senator Tester. Why was Silver off, and why—if most Senate elections are largely the consequence of fundamental factors such as the state of the national economy, the preexisting partisan inclinations of voters, and the popularity of the president—did Senator Tester eke out a win when all the fundamentals indicated otherwise?  In one sense, Congressman Rehberg's explanation was apt; it was "death by a thousand cuts" and it is difficult to say with great confidence that any one factor was the reason for Tester's victory. 

It is easy, though, to see why Silver and other election forecasters could have been wrong when watching the campaign on the ground. All campaigns begin in a particular place, a geographic constituency, carrying with it a set of representational expectations shaping how members of Congress campaign and later represent that place in office. The story of Montana's Senate race boiled down to a choice between two individuals who had developed representational styles based on place-based connections and affecting a "one of us" presentational style back home.  Ultimately, it was Senator Tester who convinced voters that he best represented the "last, best place" as a working farmer tied intimately to the land, a dogged champion of veterans, and as an earnest person interested in seeking legislative solutions to nettlesome problems. Congressman Rehberg's work as an appropriator, his unenviable position of serving the same geographic constituency with half the official resources, and the coolness some voters felt toward him personally served as clear liabilities in a charged political environment. Home style—the presentation of self, the explanation of Washington Work, and the allocation of official resources—is difficult to quantify and model. It was that which is the most elusive from afar but apparent up close, home styles, that proved the prognosticators wrong long before the voters cast their ballots on election day in Montana."--Battle for the Big Sky, December 2014. 

No comments:

Post a Comment