Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts re-election bid was considered a “safe” seat last week. Today it’s competitive. It’s a great metaphor for the 2014 election season. This was supposed to be the Republican Party’s big year. And now? Who knows. Roberts and former Kansas Senator Bob Dole. (Photo from Roberts’ U.S. Senate page.)
A couple of weeks ago the political narrative for 2014 was all but final. The story went like this: President Barack Obama is so unpopular that Republicans will win the six seats they need to control the Senate. The big question was not “if” but whether there would be a Republican wave, much like the one in 2010.
But events of this past week reshaped the political landscape. The outcome of the Senate is uncertain. It could still end up being run by Mitch McConnell and Republicans, but there is a fair chance that Harry Reid’s management will continue.
That’s why I wanted to blog this election. It’s as Heidi Klum says on Project Runway: “One day you’re in and the next day you’re out.” Of course politics is not nearly as mean as Project Runway. (Or do I have that backwards?) This week a lot of designers, I mean politicians, had to clean up their things and leave the workroom.
Both Democrats and Republicans have to deal with how a third-party candidate can change the election process. An unpopular Senator, Pat Roberts in Kansas, for example, can easily cruise to victory when the votes are divided by three. Support of just four-in-ten voters is practically a mandate. But if only two people run, then a candidate needs to get fifty-percent of the vote plus one. (Or awfully close to that because some people will write in or spoil ballots). What makes Kansas so important is that the seat is considered “safe.” It should not be competitive — and now it is. So Roberts might be out.
Democrats in Kansas and Alaska that did the math and thought, hmmm, “what’s the best, possible outcome?” Not the best outcome. But the one that works with the math, the best, possible outcome.
Third-party math already worked against Republicans during the last election. In Montana some 31,000 people voted for Dan Cox, the Libertarian candidate for the Senate. That was more votes than the Republican lost by — and had there been only two in the race the outcome most likely would be different.
I actually like a different mechanism that would end this game: The top-two or a “blanket” primary. This process creates an open primary and then winnows it down to two people. So in November voters only get a choice between two candidates, rather than nominees from smaller parties. It’s not perfect (in some districts you get two Democrats or two Republicans that win a primary) but at least it requires a real majority for a candidate to win. (I also don’t like any party determining the rules of a primary, especially when it’s funded by tax dollars. In Idaho, for example, my vote is limited because I won’t declare party affiliation.)
The mechanics of elections might be boring to some. But the execution of how the process works, and who decides what the rules should be, is awfully important to Indian country.
I also think it’s fascinating and exciting because American Indian and Alaska Natives have a shot at having a say in the outcome. Especially in 2014. Why is that? Because fewer people vote when a president is not on the ballot. So a determined, organized community can amplify their vote. That could be American Indian and Alaska Native voters. Then, Indian Country could decide which candidates are in — and which ones are out.
Mark Trahant serves as the Atwood Chair at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. For up-to-the-minute posts, download the free Trahant Reports app for your smart phone or tablet.