Where to begin?
What can you say about Senate District 18? It doesn't take a professional politco to explain the significance of those early absentee vote totals, which essentially built Democrat Liz Mathis' victory margin before any of us old-schoolers showed up at the polls Tueday. The Democratic ground game was a piece of electoral craftsmanship. Republicans were not only out-spent, but they were out-hustled.
Republican Cindy Golding was a solid candidate, but Senate Republicans divided by infighting and state Republicans seemingly distracted by presidential caucusing didn't deliver her a solid campaign. Sentate Republicans' Nov. 10 leadership election will not be a happy hive of high-fives. They remain a minority.
Add Mathis' name-recognition advantage as a longtime TV anchor in a very short campaign, and her big victory really isn't a massive surprise. The margin and the relatively high turnout were somewhat unexpected in their scope. But the outcome was predictable.
Still, it wasn't necessarily a slam dunk. Golding seemed to have the advantage on the economic/tax/business issues that top many voters' list of priorities. She was better in debates and took strong, clear stands on many issues, calling for slashing regulations, reforming property taxes and breaking free GOP priorities in the Democratic Senate. It's a message that's worked for Republicans.
But in a district that prizes moderate independence, Golding often looked too much like a partisan. The first TV ad run in her name was a shot at President Obama. That's original. She seemed, at times, to be running against Mike Gronstal instead of Liz Mathis. Marriage may not have mattered to most, but her call to put civil rights to a divisive majority vote likely turned off some district voters and motivated others to work for her defeat. For the National Organziation for Marriage and The Family Leader, it was a stinging rebuke.
Mathis did a better job portraying herself as an independent, non-partisan voice decrying gridlock and pledging to work across the aisle. Her ads and mailings depicted a farm girl candidate who would listen and learn and push for tax credits and incentives and then do more listening and learning. She was smart late in the campaign to hone in on education issues as a focus. Her opponent chided her for skipping school board elections, making Mathis like about 90 percent of the population. I'm not sure that line of attack resonated.
But Mathis also seemed to declare her independence from taking strong, clear stands on many key issues. I hate to be a victory party pooper, but that's going to have to change.
Come January, she'll have to start going on the record and casting votes. And after a year in the Senate, Mathis won't have the luxury next fall of pleading extreme thoughtfulness when asked about the state's problems. We like to be listened to, but we're also going to want to hear clear answers.But for now, congratulations to the senator-elect.