Well, I think we know where this one’s going. The polls came like waves this week. Independents breaking hard for the GOP, those making under $50,000 going Republican, the party has a 20% lead among college graduates. Gallup says 2010 is looking better than the year of the last great sweep, with 55% of respondents now saying they are Republican or lean Republican. It was 49% in 1994. RealClearPolitics has 222 House seats going to the Republicans, 175 to Democrats, and 38 toss-ups, of which 36 are currently held by the Democrats. The president’s approval numbers remain well below 50%, and Congress’s disapproval numbers above 70%.
Let’s say the polls are pretty correct. If they are, two big facts present themselves. One is that the Obama coalition broke under pressure. We’ll see if they regroup. America turns on a dime, we’re in a time of quick and constant change. But Barack Obama’s lines have been broken.
On the other side, not only is a big Republican wave coming, but a rough coalition seems to be forming. It is the coalition that did not come together in 2006 to save Congress for the GOP, and did not come together in ‘08 to elect John McCain. The tea party saved the Republican Party by, among other things, re-energizing it. But it’s also becoming clear the tea party did so without turning off the center.
This is news. Six months ago the common wisdom was that the tea party was going to scare independent voters and make them run screaming from the tent. “There was an awful man in an Uncle Sam hat and a woman talking about repealing some amendment. I can’t take it, Harry!”
But the center doesn’t appear to be scared. Maybe it doesn’t scare easy. Maybe getting scared is what happens next time, not this time. Or, my hunch, maybe the center, some of whose members have expressed a certain antipathy or standoffishness toward the tea party, simply doesn’t care that it feels a certain antipathy or standoffishness. Because such feelings are beside the point right now, a self-indulgence suited to less crisis-laden times. And we are in crisis. Our spending is ruinous, the demands of government are too great. It doesn’t matter if you like the style of those who want to turn it around, join them and try to turn it around. One of the things Rep. Paul Ryan says has seeped into the electorate: We have only a short time to fix things, we have to move now.
What’s rising now on the Republican side is big but not fully known and will evolve, will change itself and direct itself and maybe even settle some old issues as it goes forward in the next few years. It promises to be turbulent, and rich in meaning.
We’ll know in the early hours next Wednesday how it all turned out. But here is one way you’ll know it’s huge: Anna Little wins in New Jersey. If she wins it means the Republican wave swept all before it.
Not that she’s expected to. She’s running for Congress in the Jersey Shore’s Sixth Congressional District, which went for Mr. Obama over Mr. McCain 60% to 38%. She’s the Republican mayor of Highlands, population 5,000, up against incumbent Frank Pallone, an 11-term Democratic veteran who won in 2008 by 35 points. A Monmouth University poll has her down seven points. On the bright side, numbers guru Nate Silver just increased her chances of winning from 2% to 5%, and Charlie Cook changed the listing of the race from safe Democrat to likely Democrat.
Ms. Little takes it in stride. She says she’s not looking at Obama’s numbers. “I’m looking at Chris Christie’s numbers.” The Republican governor carried the district by 8% last November.
This week, at Pier Village in Long Branch, Ms. Little called a last-minute rally. Fifty or 60 people showed up, pretty good for a rainy Wednesday at 11 a.m. Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele came through town to do the event with her. He represents the dreaded establishment, but they cheered him merrily.
Mr. Steele said, “Who you gonna fire?” The crowd yelled, “Nancy Pelosi!” “Who you gonna hire?” “Anna Little!”
When Ms. Little spoke the people in front had to lower their signs. She’s 4-foot-11½. She said, “It is my honor to be part of your grass-roots movement.” She said, “I’m gonna bring the Jersey shore to the Washington Beltway to straighten them out.” This got cheers. “A Jersey girl can take a California girl any day.” That got cheers too.
I talked to a Little supporter named Lois Pongo. The tea party and the Republican establishment are supposed to be at war, I said. No, she said, they’re working together. “We need to get into a place of cooperation. It can’t be we-they. The party has structure, knowledge, experience. The tea party has principles—not just the principles but the passion to restore our country.”
Ms. Little is confident of victory. She believes no one understands the mood of the voters this year: “No one’s noticed what’s going on.” The Democrats are “not in line with the people.” The No. 1 issues: jobs and the economy. After that, health care. “You have government and insurance companies together directing what kind of insurance must be purchased by an individual or employer.” Her opponent, as head of a House subcommittee on health care, was a major supporter of ObamaCare. It caused tumultuous town-hall meetings in August 2009.
“I stand for private-sector job creation and economic growth,” Ms. Little says. “Get government out of the way. Individual liberty and freedom. A right to life that includes the right to direct your health care.”
Her campaign is a shoestring operation. She’s got four pickup trucks that tour around with her signs. She calls it “The Lawrence Welk Caravan: Anna 1, Anna 2, Anna 3 and Anna 4.” By the end of the campaign, she says, she and her volunteers will have knocked on 100,000 doors. She puts the figure at 90,059 as of Tuesday night.
In January 2010, she says, local tea-party leaders came to her and asked her to run for Congress as an independent. She said no. “It’s hard for an independent to win. It solidifies the position of the incumbent.” They asked her to run as a Republican. She agreed. But what if party leaders don’t pick you, they asked. She said she’d run in the primary, “on behalf of the grass-roots.”
Republican leaders did not choose her. So she ran for the GOP nomination against their candidate, a wealthy party contributor who was part of the organization, glamorous to the point of Palinesque, and self-funding. Ms. Little, with no money, won by 84 votes of 13,524 cast.
How did she do it? “I went door to door,” she said.
She agrees there is no civil war in the party—yet. All people want are solutions to our problems. “They don’t care who does it. They are happy to be in the Republican Party as long as it does not compromise its principles. . . . They will hug me and kiss me now, but they’ll be on top of me when it comes time for me to vote and they will hold my feet to the fire.”
She was asked if they call her the Little Engine That Could. “No,” she said. “They call me the Little Engine That Will.”