Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Nothing He Can Say Wrong-Nothing She Can Say Right

Rep Cynthia McKinney is now in the fight of her political life--again. After a primary defeat in 2002 (and return to office in 2004), she seems to be flirting with another primary nightmare in 2006.

After surviving the first primary vote last week, where she garnered 47% of the vote to her nearest competitor's 44%, she seems poised to return to the Atlanta area emptyhanded. So to prevent that, she has agreed to debate her remaining primary opponent--something she refused to do prior to the runoff. She missed several televised debates, presuming that she was going to coast to victory. It now seems that that arrogance comes with a cost.

The problem facing McKinney is similar to the one facing John Kerry in the fall of 2004 when he refused to discuss issues with Bill O'Reilly. He knew he was his own biggest liability and that his only shot at staying afloat was to keep away from individuals who might require him to deal with facts rather than the easy mantras that defined his campaign. Similarly, McKinney had a choice to make before the primary: should she appear at a series of debates, giving her two opponents a free opportunity to beat her up in person where her personal behavior was the biggest issue, or should she fail to show, thus avoiding the appearances that she had anything to defend and that her opponents possessed any electoral credibility? Hard choice for one in McKinney's position. But now she has no choice. If she fails to show, she communicates little more than arrogance, and gives her opponent an unrestricted pulpit from which to thrash her and advance his own candidacy. But again, she places her own behavior in issue and is forced to react to relevant personal attacks.

It is never good when an incumbent loses in a primary, and as any political scientist could tell you, McKinney is in real trouble. When the two anti-McKinney candidates take about 56% of the vote (and make no mistake, this primary is about McKinney, not issues), the Congresswoman has things about which she ought to be very worried. But the most ominous problem for her is the sheer predictability of this outcome. She has a very recent history (2002) of a primary loss in this district with these same voters when her own personal conduct was the biggest issue facing voters. When all of these factors come together, she has a very real shot to lose her seat again.

Bottom line, history is repeatable and Ms. McKinney has much to fear. Her removal will be no significant loss to the people of Georgia and to the Congress.


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