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WKU political experts offer insights and observations on 2008 election results

WKU political experts have offered the following insights and perspectives on the 2008 election results:

jenifer_lewisDr. Jenifer Lewis, assistant professor and Carnegie Political Engagement Scholar, WKU Department of Communication

With the election of President-Elect Obama and significant gains for the Democrats in the Senate, the electorate has given what can be considered a mandate to the Barack Obama. This was a sweeping win for Obama and, with that, he has the opportunity to pass legislation that supports his policy stances and get that legislation passed quickly.

The money that the Obama campaign poured into various battleground states certainly created interesting Senate and House races in those states. Mostly notably was the defeat of incumbent Republican Senator Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina. Obama spent a significant amount of money in that state which brought out voters to support him and the Democratic challenger, Kay Hagan, who unseated Dole.

In Kentucky, exit polls indicated that the economy was the main issue moving people to get out and vote on Tuesday. The economy was the issue that overtook other issues as this campaign heated up and, ultimately, was the issue that candidates at all levels had to address. Kentucky was the first state to be called on election night as the state went to John McCain. Mitch McConnell and Brett Guthrie may have benefitted from the support for McCain in this state. As Senate Minority Leader, a loss by McConnell would have been the biggest blow to the Republicans in this Senate election. With his win, the Republican leadership in the Senate is stable and that helps during the changes they will face with this new Congress.

turnerJoel Turner, assistant professor, WKU Department of Political Science

Presidential race: Of course this is a historic win for Sen. Obama. He was able to transform the electoral map in a way that the last two Democratic presidential nominees could not. He was also able to create a new Democratic coalition which puts the Republicans at a disadvantage going forward. One potential problem Obama faces though is that there will be an immense amount of pressure on him to perform once he takes office in January, largely due to the unrealistic expectations thrust upon him by his supporters. The Democrats failed to get a filibuster proof majority in the Senate, so on some level Obama will have to compromise in order to get some things done. It will be interesting to see if his supporters remain as strong for him as they have been thus far or if they become disillusioned as a result of Obama’s inevitable change in behavior as he transitions from campaigning to governing.

Senate/House: Sen. Mitch McConnell survived a tougher than expected challenge from Bruce Lunsford. This was a key win for Republicans, as it ensures that the party has someone at the table who will be able to force Obama to compromise on parts of his legislative agenda. Although there was a danger in McConnell getting swept up in anti-incumbent sentiment, the powerful argument he made on the trail regarding his influence in the process and the price Kentucky would pay in losing projects, influence, etc., if he was not re-elected ultimately carried the day.

In the congressional race, Brett Guthrie won a key victory for the Republicans, allowing them to hold on to Ron Lewis’ seat and mitigating the losses that the Republicans took in House races. Guthrie’s military background, business background, and legislative experience were key to his victory. Guthrie also benefitted from a fundraising advantages and well as some negative ads placed by the DCCC which seemed to backfire and hurt, rather than help, David Boswell’s cause.

On a positive bipartisan note, I think Guthrie will be, and McConnell will continue to be, great friends of WKU.

lasleyScott Lasley, associate professor, WKU Department of Political Science

It is difficult to measure the impact of presidential coattails but strength at the top of the ticket is certainly helpful. The Republicans did not seem to have a big advantage from straight-ticket voting in the 2nd District, however. I think Mitch McConnell and Brett Guthrie would have held on with a softer top of the ticket but there is reason to believe that it would have been tighter.

The economy was a huge issue. In what was already a tough year for Republicans, the focus on the economy with the decline on Wall Street made it that much tougher. It made it even more difficult for Republicans to define their message and issue agenda.

The last two elections have generated interest. Part of it is genuine and part of it has been tactical. Both parties have shifted from a sole focus on voter persuasion and are placing more emphasis on voter mobilization. They want to make sure the voters who support their candidates get to the polls. So that helps to prop up the turnout numbers. Younger voters also were mobilized and energized by the Obama campaign. The intensity and energy from young people were more pronounced for his campaign. The Republican Party has struggled with the younger demographic.

Overall the Republican Party has some soul-searching to do at the national level. The party is without an obvious leader right now.

Obama has got the best chance of any president in perhaps 40 years to make meaningful progress in implementing his agenda. It’s never easy with the way the process works here in America, but he has the most favorable conditions in quite a while. His personal appeal will certainly help. He will still have to deal with the Republican minority in the Senate. He is in a better position than other presidents have been but he still has many of the same political and structural constraints.

ardreyDr. Saundra Ardrey, department head, WKU Department of Political Science

In 1963, when I was 10 years old, I remember seeing Martin Luther King on TV. He had a dream that one day his children would be judged by the content of their character not by the color of their skin. I never believed that would happen in my lifetime. I credit the young people from ages 18 to 29 for judging Barack Obama on the content of his character not the color of his skin. They believed his message of change and his message of inclusion.

I think of all the possibilities and opportunities that this provides if we can all work together. To me, the president sets the tone for our nation. I think that for the first time in eight years we will have a more positive tone.

In Kentucky, I think a lot of people voted straight party ticket for Republicans and that helped down the ballot.

Young voters played an active role in this election. I spent most of the day Tuesday taking students to the polls. Many students were excited to be voting for the first time. The WKU campus was energized.

As hard fought as this campaign was, the real hard work starts now. It will take all of us working together to solve the problems we have.

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