In 2002, Saxby Chambliss won his Senate race against Max Cleland by exploiting Rovian advertising against his opponent. Ads showed Cleland, a double amputee from Vietnam as soft on terrorism and perhaps pro saddham and osama. It was disgusting but effective, but those days where anything anti-bush was anti american ended in 2006, only to have returned this year in the farcical campaign of sarah palin.
In my opinion, the georgia race is the final litmus test on Rovian politics. A Jim Martin victory would put the final nail in the rovian coffin that dates back to Nixon during the 70s and Atwater during the late 1980s.
Now, Chambliss is not alone. Norm Coleman has run one of the nastiest senate campaigns of the year; all character and personality attacks on Al Franken, and Liddy Dole is try to “rove” Kay Hagen but her heart isn’t into it and it isn’t working.
In place of these tired tactics are a strong force of post rovian– post hate speech– democratic senate hopefuls. These folks are not the red meat hounds that they are replacing. They are intelligent, decent, pragmatically progressive and believe in the power of ideas and persuasion as opposed to character assassination.
Not since 1980, when the Reagan wave washed out the likes of George McGovern, Gay Nelson, and Warren Maguson, has the Senate seen the likes of such strong liberal/progressive voices now at the threshold of election: Jeanne Shaheen, Mark Udall, Tom Udall, Al Franken, Mark Warner, Jim Martin, Kay Hagen. These are experienced folks who believe in the constitution, civil liberties and the rule of law; they believe in diplomacy over saber rattling and they believe in nurturing the middle class. The only red meat personality in the group is Al Franken, and his is rooted in a sharp social wit honed with a writer’s use of language and satirists sense of social timing. I can see Al waking up the Senate as the chamber struggles to turn around 8 years of policy sabotaging the constitution and returning the chamber as a check rather than echo chamber for the president.
But perhaps nothing will be more pleasurable that see Saxbe Chambliss go down to defeat. His substance-less, McCarthey-like campaign of ’02 foreshadowed the swiftboating of kerry in 04 and was a symbol of some of the worst political tactics of the war on terror era. A Martin victory next week would indeed serve a poetic marker on the new Obama era.