2010 was a year of political upheaval. The Democratic resurgence that began in 2006 was reversed in dramatic fashion by the biggest GOP midterm gains since 1938.
Without question, the most pressing issue of the year was the state of the economy, with its persistently high unemployment rates. However, 2010 was also marked by a series of issues that received intense media attention, leading some to believe they would have an impact on election results. Most, however, fizzle out by Election Day. Here are some of the year’s non-issues that underperformed with voters on November 2nd.
The Arizona Immigration Law
In May, when Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed S.B. 1070, commonly referred to as the “Arizona immigration law,” many predicted that it would be, at the least, a significant issue in Arizona’s elections. Most Arizonans were supportive of the measure, which would allow state police, following a justified stop, to request immigration documentation if they suspected an individual was in the country illegally. Opponents decried the law’s potential to foster institutionalized stereotyping, arguing that the law would lead to racially motivated profiling.
When the U.S. Justice Department launched a lawsuit against the state, and a U.S. District Court judge issued an injunction suspending implementation of the most contentious parts of S.B. 1070, Republicans attempted to make the law an election issue. Conservatives were further incensed when Mexican President Felipe Calderon appeared before a joint session of Congress and chided Arizona for passing a law that he considered prejudicial.
Some predicted that Democratic opposition to the popular law would provoke retribution from voters at the ballot box. In fact, many Democratic representatives who opposed the law—even in Arizona— survived. Endangered 8th district U.S. House Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who deftly criticized both the law and the government’s failure to secure the border, narrowly won reelection. And even 7th district Rep. Raul Grijalva, who called for an economic boycott of his own state when the bill passed the legislature in late April, went on to win re-election handily. (Grijalva rescinded his boycott call in late July following criticism from his constituents and his opponent, Ruth McClung.)
The Ground Zero Mosque
The developers of the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque,” an Islamic cultural center planned to be erected two blocks north of the World Trade Center site, had been embroiled in a growing controversy since their plans for the center were approved by a community planning board in May. As national figures such as Sarah Palin weighed in, the controversy became the dominant political topic of the summer, and when President Obama expressed his support for the center’s construction during an August 13 celebration marking the end of Ramadan at the White House, it threatened to further sink Democratic hopes in the November elections as well. Obama clarified his position the next day, backtracking on support for the center and expressing only a general support for First Amendment religious freedoms. According to many pundits, however, by then the damage was supposedly done.
Republicans pounced on the president’s supportive comment as elitist as polls taken on the issue showed national opposition to the center’s construction (though residents of Manhattan, where the center would be located, narrowly supported it). Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), then chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, predicted that the mosque would play a role in the midterm elections but the issue faded as the election approached and didn’t even register in exit polls.
The McChrystal Rolling Stone Magazine Flap
Progressives were already deeply mistrustful of President Obama’s Afghanistan strategy long before the summer of 2010, having hoped that he would implement a phased withdrawal rather than an increase in forces similar to the 2007 Iraq Surge strategy. Conservatives, while generally supportive of the Afghanistan war and of General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. forces there, mistrusted Obama’s military and national security leadership abilities. When a June Rolling Stone profile of McChrystal quoted the general criticizing Obama, the ensuing flap had the potential to call Obama’s military leadership into wider question.
McChrystal was soon replaced with Army Gen. David Patraeus, who had implemented the Iraq Surge strategy. While congressional Republicans were generally supportive of the move, they were quick to suggest that McChrystal had been right to denounce Obama’s plan to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in July 2011. For a brief moment, it seemed that the nine-year-old Afghanistan War would become an election issue, but it registered only slightly in exit polls, with 7 percent calling it the most important issue facing the country.
Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. Email him at email@example.com