THAT'S "MacENERY," WITH A "D" -- Eileen MacEnery, the Democratic candidate in Ventura County's 44th Assembly District, has a challenging name to pronounce. She tells people that to pronounce those last three syllables correctly, say it like the word "energy," but without the "g." Judging from the election results, however, it's clear that the most important letter associated with her name was the "D" -- as in "party preference: Democrat."
MacEnery's candidacy provides a textbook example of just how powerful party preference was this month in partisan races. She had no experience in government, had never before run for elected office and spent just about zero money to promote her candidacy. She was running against an incumbent Republican, Jeff Gorell, who had received considerable publicity throughout the district for having just returned from Afghanistan, where he served for a year as an officer in the Navy Reserve.
Yet, with some ballots yet to be counted, Gorell is winning re-election by just 7 percentage points -- 53.5 percent to 46.5 percent.
It's fair to conclude, then, that the baseline vote for Democratic candidates in that district was 46.5 percent. That was the party-line vote.
Looking at the city-by-city breakdown, it's possible to compare how MacEnery fared compared to other, much higher-profile Democrats who spent millions of dollars on their campaigns. What it clearly shows is that partisan identification means almost everything in partisan races, and that those millions of dollars make only a relatively small difference on the margins.
In Thousand Oaks, MacEnery received 41 percent of the vote -- just 4 percentage points fewer than incumbent Democratic Sen. Fran Pavley received, and 5 percentage points fewer than winning Democratic congressional candidate Julia Brownley received.
In Oxnard, MacEnery fared even better relative to the other Democratic candidates. In fact, she outperformed Brownley and nearly matched President Barack Obama. MacEnery received 69 percent of the vote in Oxnard, one percentage point less than Obama and 3 percentage points more than Brownley.
What to make of this? Well, next time you hear someone complain about how members of Congress and the Legislature are "too partisan," you might point out that they are no more partisan than voters. As MacEnery's performance illustrates, most voters consider nothing other than a candidate's party preference when deciding who they want to represent them.
FOR GOP, A DANGEROUSLY FLAWED ANALYSIS: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker spoke at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley last week and, as Michele Willer-Allred reported in Friday's Ventura County Star, he had his own unique take on this month's election results.
For Republicans concerned about their party's future electoral prospects, Walker's analysis is dangerously misleading.
For one, he asserted -- as have other conservative's in the election's wake -- that Mitt Romney was a flawed candidate who did not effectively "communicate" conservative views.
In fact, polling results (which turned out to reflect to a high degree of accuracy the actual voter preferences) clearly suggest that Romney was the only one of multiple GOP contenders who had any chance of even making the election close. Remember that, just before the Iowa Caucus in January, polls showed Romney and President Barack Obama even in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup, while Obama held double-digit leads over Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry. The CBS News poll from Jan. 18 is reflective of what all the polls at the time were showing.
In addition, polling in October clearly showed that Romney closed ground on Obama -- gained "momentum," as the Romney campaign correctly proclaimed -- just at the time he softened his campaign rhetoric and began to present himself as more of a moderate than he projected himself to be during the Republican primary campaign.
Even more off-base was Scott's analysis of the vote in Wisconsin. Democrats won both of the two statewide races, with Obama beating Romney by 7 percentage points, and Rep. Tammy Baldwin defeating former Gov. Tommy Thompson in the U.S. Senate race. In district-level races, however, Republicans increased their majorities in both houses of the state Legislature.
Scott said those results show that "each race is independently viewed by the voters," and suggest a strong show of support for the Republican-controlled state government.
But that analysis leaves out one important consideration -- the 2011 redistricting that was controlled by the Republican Legislature, which created districts that maximized the GOP vote in Wisconsin. The most plausible explanation for why two Democrats won statewide while Republicans won in district-level races is that gerrymandering works.
An analysis of 11 contested state senate races by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism analysis shows just how well it worked, While Republicans won six of those seats, including two that had previously been held by Democrats, a slight majority of the combined vote in those 11 districts (50.5 percent) went to Democratic candidates.
This is the same comparative metric, by the way, that Republicans in California used back in the 1980s (the last time California had a truly partisan redistricting scheme in place) to rightly show how badly gerrymandering had skewed voter sentiment here. Throughout that decade, Democratic majorities in the Legislature significantly exceeded the percentage of the combined Democratic vote in legislative races.