This election year, we’ve endured the usual avalanche of broadcast ads and watched candidates sling arrows at each other endlessly during televised debates.
As always, the campaigns predictably descended into personal attacks and silly talking points that often had nothing to do with their ideas or qualifications.
Which leaves it up to voters to sort it all out and choose well. And that choice is again upon us.
On Election Night, the winners will stand before their adoring supporters and bask in the glow of victory as balloons drop and champagne flows. Yet even as they sweep up the confetti, the real work begins.
Of course, the morning after this year could be mornings, plural, and even extend into 2015. The presence of Libertarian candidates in races for governor and Senate could force runoffs on different dates: Dec. 2 for statewide races and Jan. 6 for the U.S. Senate. The latter result could even decide which party gains control of Congress as it begins a new session.
But eventually, winners will prevail, be it in November, December or January. As the candidates transition into officeholders-elect, they must take their mountains of promises and turn them into action. Otherwise, new challengers will be waiting in the next election to call them on it.
Those seeking office this year will be tested in different ways once they earn the job.
Georgia’s new senator, whether David Perdue or Michelle Nunn, will replace Saxby Chambliss, a two-term veteran who has achieved high seniority in the Senate, particularly in the key areas of foreign relations and agriculture. Starting on the bottom rung won’t be easy for either newbie, and no matter which party earns majority control.
For Perdue, life in the Republican majority is the best option. If he plays his cards right, he can work his way up the ladder in a Senate controlled by his party. Even then, it will take time. Yet if the Democrats hold control, he’ll remain a back-bencher in a minority party and may struggle to become an influential player.
The path will be harder for Nunn, who has campaigned as a bridge-builder and nonpartisan thinker like her father, former Sen. Sam Nunn. But the Senate is a different place now than when the senior Nunn served. In his era, conservative “blue dog” Democrats were a key force in guiding legislation. Today’s Congress is much more divided, each party having long since purged itself of many diverse views. Decades of redistricting and party shuffles have made moderates like Nunn hard to find and mostly marginalized in a Washington largely governed by the hard right and left.
Even if Nunn goes to Washington as part of a Democratic majority, she may find herself on the outs in a party dominated by liberal/progressives from the North and West. Her efforts to reach across the aisle could earn a cold shoulder from leaders of both parties more intent on trashing the other side, not working with them.
If Republicans gain the Senate — which may be hard to do if Nunn wins — she may only be a factor on issues for which the new majority needs a veto-proof consensus to override a Democratic president, and that may be rare. Beyond that, GOP leaders won’t feel the need to court moderate Democrats if they can pass bills without them.
The same party split could hamper Democrat Jason Carter if he unseats Nathan Deal as governor. The majority in the state legislature won’t change anytime soon, with so few competitive races to tilt the balance. So chances are slim of a Democratic governor getting much of his agenda passed by a large GOP majority. Likewise, he could thwart much of what Republican lawmakers propose, which could lead to at least two years of vetoes, veto overrides and overall gridlock.
Deal wouldn’t have that problem if he earns a second term, having earned broad support among lawmakers under the Gold Dome. His challenges are less political and more centered on the state’s ongoing difficulties in funding education, transportation and health care needs and growing an economy that seems to be moving in two different directions at once.
While Deal won’t face the learning curve other first-time candidates would have to overcome, he might encounter what all second-term executives face: Lame-duck status. As soon as he takes the oath, the scramble in the statehouse will begin over who will succeed him, posturing that may affect how legislation flows as the next election draws nearer.
It’s sad in a way, yet a concession to the status of our politics, that one must ponder partisan concerns and other criteria over leadership ability. Yet it’s a nod to reality that when it comes to ability to govern, a candidate’s ideas and objectives often are less significant than party affiliation after Election Day.
And rest assured, none of this is an argument to vote for or against anyone Tuesday, just a peek at what to anticipate. Political campaigns tend to ramp up expectations beyond what’s really within their reach — “If elected, I will ...” they intone — failing to reveal that success or failure isn’t entirely up to them.
We should keep in mind that promises made are just a framework of what we might see when these folks take office. Grounding our assumptions in the real world can distill the flowery prose down to what matters most: Which of these candidates has the experience, character and integrity to guide our state and nation during turbulent times and handle problems seen and unseen in the years to come.
We hope you will take time to measure them all carefully and cast a wise ballot that reflects your deeply held beliefs and hopes. Once we do our jobs, we need to stay engaged and hold our public servants to theirs. That’s the best way to get the government we need and deserve after this Election Day is a memory.