In many ways, this empty slate at the local level is even more serious than the statewide failure to recruit Democratic candidates for State Treasurer and Attorney General because the former feeds the latter and detracts from the pool of potential candidates who've established a foothold - or at least gotten a taste of campaigning - that would prove useful in pursuit of higher office. It also contributes to a certain legitimacy problem for the Democratic Party in the public's imagination.
In illustration of this fact, a Lincoln Journal-Star editorial scolded local Democrats this weekend:
There are few things in this world so frustrating for Americans as a lack of choices...So it seems a bit odd we cling as we do to a two-party political system.
Odder still that we tolerate a virtual one-party county government. So we’re not going to tolerate it.
We’re going to aim a rant at local Democrats, who were unable to field candidates for a whole lot of local offices....
One wonders, is there an open plot out at Wyuka [Cemetary] awaiting the local franchise of Jackson, Kennedy and Clinton?
Local Democrats, please, what is your purpose here? Voters of all political stripes deserve better than this....These Republicans don’t deserve a free ride.
The Democratic party is doing itself and the rest of this county a disservice by not recruiting, preparing and vigorously running qualified members for every public office.
What the Journal-Star fails to note, however, is how great an opportunity for a literal take-over of Lancaster County might have been missed. The one Democrat to challenge an incumbent Republican, Dan Nolte, won his race for County Clerk by more than 5%. At the same time, all four legislative races in (or partially in) Lancaster County were won by Democratic candidates, including two that had previously been held by Republicans in the officially non-partisan Nebraska Unicameral.
It's easy to see how this was possible when Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson - who received 64% of the vote statewide - won an awesome 70% in Lancaster County. Clearly, Democrats were very successful at getting voters to the polls. There just weren't enough Democrats to support when voters got there.
No doubt, there was the potential for some mammoth gains with such numbers and in this particular electoral climate. The worst thing is that these seats won't be up again for another four years, and there's no guarantee the same sorts of resources will then be available. Hence, it's never too soon to be recruiting those candidates and developing those resources, ensuring that similar opportunities are not forsaken in the future.
Still, with Lincoln's city elections coming in the spring, capitol city Democrats should at least take heart at the momentum they'll be carrying into what are sure to be heated races to hold onto both the Mayor's office and the Democratic majority on the city council. They are well-positioned for continued success in 2007, with little to gain by regretting what could have been this November.