Passionate voters carried Barack Obama into the White House in 2008 and gave Minnesota Republicans control of the Legislature in 2010, but some of the voters who made those historic choices are having second thoughts about the 2012 election.
Many idealistic young people and hopeful people of color enthusiastically cast ballots for the first African-American president who pledged to produce “change we can believe in.”
Many Minnesota voters were looking for a different brand of change two years ago when they narrowly elected a Democratic governor and a Republican Legislature. The GOP legislative candidates had vowed to cut or control spending and reform state government.
These two electorates came to mind recently after I asked a Twin Cities businessman what he expected to see in the 2012 election. Before any election, he said, he always looks to see which candidates and which parties have the most passionate voters.
It’s an effective barometer because the voters who are excited about their candidates will contribute money, volunteer to work on campaigns, and enlist their family and friends to vote.
Six months from the 2012 general election, President Obama is locked in a tight contest with Republican Mitt Romney because the economic recovery has been slow and a lot of citizens believe that the American dream is outside their grasp. With economic woes in the forefront, the power of incumbency is tempered.
In Minnesota, voters got a state government shutdown in 2011 and the 2012 Legislature was close to earning a “do-nothing” label before a flurry of activity in the final days of the session. Although greatly overshadowed by the high drama surrounding the Vikings stadium bill that won bipartisan support, lawmakers also managed to pass modest bonding and tax-cut bills.
The people who gave Obama the reins of power and placed Republicans in charge of the Minnesota Legislature were very different electorates.
But some of the most inspired voters in 2008 and 2010 are disappointed that these leaders didn’t deliver the kind of policy triumphs they anticipated.
Obama has been unable to rev the engines of the U.S. economy so many Americans are still struggling to find jobs or secure jobs that pay decent wages. Meanwhile, many fiscal conservatives in Minnesota are disenchanted that Republican legislators didn’t shrink the size of government.
Obama energized one of his key constituencies on Wednesday when he announced that he thinks gay couples should be able to get married.
That move will boost Obama’s fundraising and ensure a high turnout of gay voters for Obama across the nation.
In Minnesota, gay rights activists and religious conservatives will be among the most highly-motivated voters this year. By placing the marriage amendment on the November ballot, legislative Republicans unleashed an expensive battle that will play out on the air waves and in grass-roots campaigns. Minnesotans will be asked to vote on whether the constitution should be amended to define marriage as between a man and a woman.
While that social issue plays out during the summer and fall campaign in Minnesota, President Obama and former Gov. Romney will be targeting their campaign messages to a dozen swing states.
The Gallup poll has identified the battleground states as Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.
In a USA Today/Gallup Swing States poll released Monday, 55 percent of Obama voters were extremely enthusiastic or very enthusiastic to cast a ballot for the president. In comparison, 46 percent of Romney’s supporters were extremely or very enthusiastic to vote for him. The lower Romney number may be linked to Republicans who supported more conservative candidates in the GOP primary contests.
In Minnesota, the marriage amendment will inspire intensity and dedication by political activists on both sides of the issue. But Gov. Mark Dayton isn’t on the ballot and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is expected to sail to a re-election victory.
So some of the most passionate and inspired voters might surface in congressional and legislative races. Republicans, who were hobbled by Minnesota Senate leadership and state party finances controversies, will be held accountable for how they handled the mantle of leadership. And Democrats will be hungry to regain power.
If your local Minnesota legislative race doesn’t get your heart pumping and you are looking for more political passion, it’s possible to take a day trip to Wisconsin where you’ll always find good political theater.
Fedor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.