Reflections on the 2014 US Mid-term elections

A wave became a tsunami that broke records

The November 4 mid-term election results were a tsunami for Republicans breaking various records in the process:

  • House: At the projected 250 seats, this is the highest number of Republican seats in the House since 1928
  • Senate: The likely 9 Senate seat gain is the largest by the party not holding the White House since Eisenhower’s GOP lost 12 Senate seats in 1958. Please note that right now the gain is officially at 7 but Republican Sullivan is 4% ahead of Democrat Begich in Alaska pending only special votes – overcoming this margin of victory is impossible. Louisiana is headed to a run-off election in December because no candidate made 50%. Sitting Democrat Landrieu faced moderate (Cassidy) and Tea Party (Mannes) Republican opponents who scored 41% and 12% respectively to her 42% in what LA calls a jungle primary. In the two horse race in the runoff, the Tea Party Republican vote will coalesce around Cassidy giving the GOP their 9th seat
  • Governorships: At 31 Governor’s seats, this is the most the GOP has held since the 1920’s
  • State Legislatures: At 67 to 69 State legislatures (final results waiting on counting of the US equivalent of special votes) this is the most state lower and upper chambers that the GOP has won also since 1928. At 4,001 state level legislative seats, it is in excess of the 1928 high tide mark and represents the highest Republican penetration since Reconstruction!
  • The GOP now have control of all three arms of state government (Governor, State Lower and Upper Houses) in 24 states versus only 7 states where the Democrats have similar dominance.

Obama’s mid-term record was the worst in the modern era

When you add the record 63 Democrat House seats that Obama lost in the 2010 mid-terms to the likely 18 he seems to have lost in 2014 AND the likely 9 Senate seats, no other President has seen his party so badly beaten in the mid-terms since President Wilson’s tenure in office (1913 to 1921).

Candidate competency makes a difference

Republicans made a series of poor candidate selections in winnable Senate races in 2010 and 2012 and not only failed to get them elected but they actually lost Senate seats in 2012. Tea Party influence in the GOP Primaries in 2010 and 2012 threw up a slew of more extremist unelectable candidates (Buck in Colorado, Angle in Nevada, O’Donnell in Delaware) who were easily beaten by vulnerable Democrat incumbents. Add major pratfalls on the campaign trail in 2012 by Aitken in Missouri and Mourdoch in Indiana on the subject of abortions for rape victims and what should’ve been dead certain pickups by the GOP against unpopular Democrat opponents in a tough cycle for Democrats left the GOP well short of its goal to take over the Senate.

Those sorts of mistakes were avoided in this cycle. A raft of moderate and reasonable candidates won GOP primaries and they ended up campaigning strongly, maintained excellent message discipline, debated well against their opponents and were adequately funded by the Republican National Committee.

The polls were wrong

In 2012 I, along with a number of reputable Republican commentators including the inestimable psephologist Michael Barone, predicted a Romney win based on various pollsters’ 2012 turnout models that took a mid-point between the 2008 Obama wave and the 2010 Republican wave. It transpired that the Obama campaign used its massive technology and money advantage to almost replicate their 2008 turnout thus many polls overstated Republican support.

This time the opposite happen with some spectacular polling failures that favoured Democrats. The RCP (Real Clear Politics – a website that aggregates all public polling data) polling averages for the following were off: Tom Cotton’s RCP had him up by 5 over Pryor in Arkansas but he smashed him by 17; Mitch McConnell’s RCP had him up by 7 but he won by 14, Mark Warner’s RCP average had him up by almost 10 points in Virginia and yet he clings to a lead of less than a percentage point. In Georgia, David Perdue was 3 up but won by 8 and avoided a run off. The governor’s races also featured big polling failures. Scott Walker in Wisconsin was up by only two in the RCP average and yet he won easily by 6. In Illinois, Pat Quinn was up by a little less than a percentage point but he lost by nearly 5. In Kansas, Sam Brownback was losing by 2 and yet he won by just under 4 points. Esteemed polling and elections analyst Nate Silver of the 538 Blog estimated polls in 2014 were out by an average of 4% in favour of Democrats.

Democrats ran from Obama but they couldn’t hide

The President’s poor personal popularity and the widespread rejection of his agenda and lack of achievements meant vulnerable Democrats contorted themselves like pretzels to avoid being associated with Obama. He was not invited to campaign events and a couple of candidates farcically refused to answer questions from reporters about whether they voted personally for Obama in 2008 or 2012. In Kansas the Democrats tried to oust unpopular incumbent Republican senator Pat Roberts by running a telegenic unknown businessman Greg Orman as an nominal (and as it turned out fake) Independent who Kansas voters rightly deduced was just a Democrat stalking horse. Any Democrat running in so-called red states (yes in the US red is the colour for the right leaning Republicans and blue for the left leaning Democrats) did so never mentioning their party affiliation or their association with Obama. When pressed on Obama’s controversial liberal policies, candidates in coal country publicly would pledge to “stand up for coal miners” (despite secretly supporting Obama’s draconian EPA regulations against coal) or “to reform Obamacare from the inside” after voting usually 95% + for Obama’s agenda. Voters weren’t fooled.

Obamacare is electorally toxic

Obama’s signature legislative achievement has become a millstone around the necks of his party’s legislators who passed it into law. Obamacare (or to give it its official title the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) was passed under a welter of devious maneuverings using arcane Senate rules. Normal legislation is subject to filibuster (needs 60 votes in favour) but budget measures need only a simple majority to pass. In early 2010 Obama lost his filibuster proof majority in the Senate when Scott Brown won the special election held to fill the vacancy left in Massachusetts after Ted Kennedy died. Senate Majority leader Harry Reid broke with all precedent and departed from a long tradition of landmark legislation passing with bi-partisan support and slipped the Obamacare Bill into a hollowed out budget Bill and it passed through both houses of Congress on simple majority without a single Republican vote.

It was an inauspicious beginning to a law that become increasingly more unpopular when it was apparent that the three big promises Obama made about the law were quickly broken. Firstly “if you want your doctor you can keep your doctor” was proven false because so many Obamacare compliant plans could only offer remotely affordable premiums if the network of providers was curtailed. Horror stories emerged of terminally ill patients under the care of specialists effectively keeping them alive being told that their doctor was no longer ‘in-network’. Secondly – the promise that “if you like your plan you can keep your plan” also proved false for millions as employers, facing huge premium hikes, released employees from company plans giving them the premium equivalent in cash thus forcing them to use the Obamacare exchanges to get their health insurance. The exchanges offered inferior plans with more expensive premiums, higher excesses and higher out of pocket expenses. The final promise to curtail premium increases (“bend the cost curve down”) proved to also be false with almost all insurance plans facing multiple year on year double digit premium increases usually because the law required all plans include a range of basic coverage items that previously could be left out if not needed (e.g. maternity care – not needed by older couples, drug/alcohol treatment – no needed by non-drinkers etc.).

The coup de grâce for Obamacare was the incredibly botched rollout of the exchanges – on line portals supposedly designed to enable people to shop for the best coverage. The federal exchange costing some $300 million and which was the only portal for over 30 states, for the first few months after launch crashed, trapping applicants in a frozen screen hell. It was full of bugs and security holes (no guarantee security of private information), was very slow and was unable to transmit information accurately to insurers. This prevented millions from enrolling and there were myriads of processing, subsidy qualification and enrolment issues. At the state level there were even greater catastrophes with three state exchanges (each involving close to $100 million in wasted development costs to create) that were so bad that they were eventually abandoned by the states. It was the perfect illustration of big government overreach and failure and a huge indictment of Obama given that this was supposedly the crowning achievement of his first term as President but was an abject failure. Democrats from the House and Senate who voted for Obamacare (almost all seeking re-election) were relentlessly targeted by Republicans for their vote for this unpopular law. GOP candidates all over the US pledged to defund or repeal Obamacare. Exit polls show health care was the No 2 issue after the economy so efforts by the left to downplay the electoral toxicity of Obamacare failed.

Democrats ran on faux issues because Obama’s record was too hard to run on

Democrats couldn’t run on the economy because the recovery on Main St and amongst the middle class is so anemic (in contrast to booming Wall St); they couldn’t run on Obamacare for the reasons stated above; they couldn’t run on making government work better after governmental pratfalls such as the scandal of falsified waiting lists at the Veterans Administration Hospitals (leading to injured soldiers dying on waiting lists) or poor protective protocols from the Centre for Diseases Control that failed to block US citizens with Ebola from entering the country using political correctness as the reason for not enacting the sorts of travel bans the Canadians, Australians and French enacted and they couldn’t run on Obama’s foreign policy successes after the red line in Syria that wasn’t, him ignoring intelligence agency warnings on the rise of ISIS, his tensions with Israel and no progress towards a lasting solution in Palestine, the botched negotiations with Iran over its nuclear ambitions and the failure to curb Russian military aggression in Ukraine. So they ran on bashing the rich Koch brothers, a phony ‘war on women’, climate change scaremongering and used tired old race baiting scare tactics with screeds of hysterical over the top negative advertising. None of these tactics worked.

The Republican ‘War on Women’ meme pounded by Democrats crashed and burned

Democrat candidates across the country waged a shameless campaign of scaremongering against pro-life Republicans of both sexes claiming, if elected, they would reverse or suspend women’s reproductive rights. This reached an almost ludicrous level in the Colorado Senate race where incumbent Democrat Mark Udall tried to brand his pro-choice rival Cory Gardner as a right wing extremist over his prior tentative support for a Personhood Bill in the Colorado House that he withdrew support for because it was too narrowly focused. Udall’s campaigning against Gardner became so focused on this one issue that even the very liberal Denver media dubbed him Mark ‘Uterus’. Pro-life Republicans, especially the women, neutralized these ‘war on women’ attacks by going public with their support for a draft US House Bill to make certain contraceptives available over the counter. This relatively routine reform was used as an effective shield against pro-choice Democrat attacks by demonstrating the moderate and reasonable actual stances these Republican candidates were taking.

Republicans nominated a record number of minority candidates who won

The election results were littered with a range of firsts for minority candidates:

  • First black Republican elected to the Senate from the South since Reconstruction (Tim Scott in South Carolina)
  • First black Republican woman elected to Congress (Mia Love in Utah’s 4th District)
  • First women Congressman elected from Iowa (Joni Ernst – Senate)
  • First women Senator elected from West Virginia (Shelley Capito)
  • Youngest woman ever elected to Congress at aged 30 (Elise Stefanik in New York’s 21st District)

The biggest upsets were the in Governor’s races

Based on polling averages, the GOP were predicted to be down 1 net governor’s mansion and yet they ended up gaining 4/losing 2 for a net gain of 2 (or 3 better than expected). The wins were notable in that they were in Democrat strongholds such as Massachusetts, Illinois and Maryland. In fact Larry Hogan’s win over Anthony Brown in Maryland by 5 points against pre-election average polls of Democrat +5 was the upset of the night. Part and parcel of the GOP’s success at the Gubernatorial level was their successful defense of several governors universally seen by the media as under threat and likely to go to the Democrats (Scott – Florida, Brownback – Kansas, LePage – Maine, Snyder – Michigan and Deal – Georgia). In the end only unpopular and controversial Pennsylvania GOP Governor Corbett was ousted by his Democrat rival with the Alaska GOP Governor Parnell being beaten by an Independent.

 November 4th’s most significant victory: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s re-election

Scott Walker was elected Governor in 2010 in a state that has reliably voted for Democrat Presidents since Reagan in 1984. He won narrowly in 2010 and proceeded to deal to the public sector unions who had amassed considerable power under successive Democrat governors and state legislatures. A neat money-go-round of compulsory union membership and automatically deducted dues gave these unions’ huge war chests that they used to donate to Democrat candidates who then in turn legislated to enhance the power and protection of unions. Walker ended the racket by passing laws that made union membership voluntary and that union members had to pay their dues themselves no longer able to have them deducted by their employer. The law’s attempted passage was met with loud and vehement opposition complete with occupations of the State Capitol and Democrat legislators illegally fleeing to neighbouring Illinois in an attempt to avoid the vote from even being taken (WI State Troopers found them and brought them back to vote). The law passed and resulted in a 70% drop in union membership and plummeting financial clout. Unions and wealthy liberal donors all over the US donated millions to a recall election in 2012 that Walker easily won despite $25 million of outside money that poured in. Walker’s legislative reforms also survived recall attempts on key GOP State Senate members and GOP appointees to the State Supreme court. In this his third election in 4 years, Walker had to overcome negative publicity arising from spurious and politically motivated Grand Jury indictments from partisan Democrat local prosecutors on trumped up election finance irregularities – charges throw out of the State Supreme and two Federal Courts and his third Democrat opponent also being very well funded by outside liberal money.

Walker is a class act – young, articulate, handsome, genuine and unflappable turing turned around a moribund state economy, slashing costs for school districts no longer burdened by union imposed inflated health care premiums and feather bedding hiring practices all policies resulting in plummeting unemployment. Walker’s success from solid conservative economic reforms, his street cred batting off sustained waves of nationally funded leftist attacks and his undeniable electoral success in the face of such opposition has catapulted him to the top tier of Republican Presidential hopefuls for the open race in 2016. Watch this space – Walker will be a formidable opponent with many electoral pluses and few minuses.

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