When does independence in a politician become inconsistency? Does it matter? An election held near my town this week says it does – and that inconsistency sometimes just doesn’t pay.

The race was for a state senate seat. The candidates were two experienced politicians – one an alderman in the state’s largest city, the other a former state senator trying to reclaim his old seat. The district sprawls over a Democrat-leaning large city and several GOP-leaning towns. In the previous two elections, the district alternated between Republican and Democratic winners. In short, the usual indicators showed no hard advantage for either of this week’s candidates.

The Democrat won, and it wasn’t close. “A stunning repudiation of the Trump-[state governor] agenda,” crowed the state Democratic director, in a statement that was probably drafted on election night 2016 and kept in a drawer for a day like yesterday.

Nice try at grabbing the credit, but neither the President nor the Governor had a thing to do with it. Consistency, and neighbors who respected it, made the difference.

The Democrat is a down-the-line party man. Local voters who agreed with him on issues had every reason to come out and vote.  Apparently, some voters who disagreed with him didn’t find a compelling alternative on the one-race ballot.

The Republican, a nice enough guy with a positive voting record in many respects, was nevertheless inconsistent. Sometimes he voted along party lines, sometimes he didn’t, and sometimes he see-sawed on a topic.

  • The state party is pro-right-to-work and anti-casino (the latter, mostly because of the effect a casino would have on local small businesses in the hospitality and lodging industries). This week’s candidate was the opposite.
  • The candidate supported Medicaid expansion when it came up for a vote a couple of years ago, despite uncertainty in how to fund it – effectively making a promise to indigent residents without having the resources to back it up.
  • The party, on paper anyway, is pro-life; the candidate had been on the prevailing side five years ago when the state senate rejected an informed-consent-for-abortion measure on a 12-11 vote. Even so, he had pro-life votes as well over the years, including a splendid series of votes against anti-First-Amendment zones outside abortion facilities.

Call it independence or call it inconsistency, but it didn’t work out for him this week, even though he may be a nice guy and an experienced public servant. In a special election, with nothing else on the ballot, too many people couldn’t get excited enough over his mixed record to get to the polls.

I overheard a conversation this morning between a state GOP official and a GOP state representative. The party official detailed the things the party had done in the state senate race: door knocking, phone calls, ads, poll standers, the whole routine. The state rep then gently broke the news to her: it wasn’t the party that lost the election. It was the candidate. “That Medicaid expansion vote killed him.” And that was a friend of the candidate talking.

Independence of mind and spirit and conscience – that’s one thing. Throwing on a party’s mantle and expecting it to cover a multitude of inconsistencies – that’s another. When there’s only one race on the ballot, a candidate’s record looms large.

Here I’ll quote Skip Murphy of Granite Grok, a friend of DTG, who has been known to preach this particular message with a revivalist’s fervor: consistency breeds trust yields votes. 

Inconsistency breeds special election result like yesterday’s.

Ellen Kolb blogs about New Hampshire life-issue policy at Leaven for the Loaf and looks farther afield in ellenkolb.com