Another Midterm Election, Another Red Tide

Soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

Soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

There’s no other way to slice it: the 2014 midterm elections were a disaster for the Democratic Party.  While many predicted that Republicans were well-positioned in this cycle, few predicted that their gains would be as large as they were.  When the dust settled, the GOP had gained 13 House seats, nine Senate seats (finally wresting away control of the chamber), and three governorships.  They also succeeded in turning 11 state legislatures red, leaving Democrats with the fewest state legislatures in their control since 1860.  The Republicans’ new margin in the House of Representatives (247-188) is their largest since 1928.  The party accomplished this by sweeping most every competitive seat, even winning a few that many thought wouldn’t break their way.  Let’s dig into each of the three groups of elections, and see how my predictions fared.  I realize I’m bit late to the party in terms of analyzing these races, but I wanted to wait until every race was called and I had some time to digest the results.

House

There weren’t any truly stunning results in the House; most of the seats that switched parties were viewed as competitive races for most of the cycle.  Let’s take a look at the seats I highlighted in my previous post.  I’ll break them into the same groups I broke them into in that post.  Bold indicates an incumbent.

District Democrat Republican Winner
NY-11 Domenic Recchia Mike Grimm Grimm
CA-31 Pete Aguilar Paul Chabot Aguilar
WV-03 Nick Rahall Evan Jenkins Jenkins
UT-04 Doug Owens Mia Love Love
NC-07 Jonathan Barfield David Rouzer Rouzer
Michael Grimm

Michael Grimm

Most of these races ended with results I predicted, with one notable exception.  Michael Grimm, of balcony-throwing fame, managed to hang on in NY-11 despite being under federal indictment.  When an incumbent like this wins, it’s usually a result of gross negligence by the other party, and Domenic Recchia’s bizarre answers and non-answers during the campaign were largely to blame for his kicking away an otherwise winnable race.

District Democrat Republican Winner
AZ-02 Ron Barber Martha McSally McSally
AZ-01 Ann Kirkpatrick Andy Tobin Kirkpatrick
CA-52 Scott Peters Carl DeMaio Peters
FL-26 Joe Garcia Carlos Curbelo Curbelo
NH-01 Carol Shea-Porter Frank Guinta Guinta
NY-21 Aaron Woolf Elise Stefanik Stefanik
CA-36 Raul Ruiz Brian Nestande Ruiz
CA-07 Ami Bera Doug Ose Bera
FL-18 Patrick Murphy Carl Domino Murphy
NY-01 Tim Bishop Lee Zeldin Zeldin
CO-06 Andrew Romanoff Mike Coffman Coffman
IA-03 Staci Appel David Young Young
NY-19 Sean Eldridge Chris Gibson Gibson
NE-02 Brad Ashford Lee Terry Ashford

The most notable seats in this group are in Arizona’s 2nd, where Republicans finally recaptured this long-coveted seat by less than 200 votes after a recount (this seat is the main reason I had to wait this long to write this post).  Brad Ashford’s win is probably the only one here that I’d call a true upset, as his district is heavily Republican.  However, Lee Terry’s controversial past (such as demanding to be paid during the government shutdown) finally caught up with him.  Ashford will face a stiff challenge to hold on to his seat in 2016, so it will be interesting to see how he governs in the interim.

Brad-Ashford-Headshot-HiRes

Democrat Brad Ashford, who upset Republican Lee Terry to win in Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District.

District Democrat Republican Winner
GA-12 John Barrow Rick Allen Allen
IL-12 William Enyart Mike Bost Bost
AZ-09 Krysten Sinema Wendy Rogers Sinema
MA-06 Seth Moulton Richard Tisei Moulton
MN-08 Rick Nolan Stewart Mills Nolan
TX-23 Pete Gallego Will Hurd Hurd
VA-10 John Foust Barbara Comstock Comstock
NY-23 Martha Robertson Tom Reed Reed
MI-01 Jerry Cannon Dan Benishek Benishek
NJ-03 Aimee Belgard Tom MacArthur MacArthur

John Barrow, Georgia Democrats’ great survivor, finally fell to partisan gravity in Georgia’s 12th District, with Republicans finally fielding a competent candidate to challenge him.  The Massachusetts race included a surprising upset, with John Tierney losing renomination to Seth Moulton.  This was probably a welcome development for Democrats, as Moulton coasted to election in a race Tierney could conceivably have lost.   Many Virginia Democrats viewed the tenth district as a pickup opportunity when Rep. Frank Wolf retired, but John Foust ran what many described as a lackluster campaign against Barbara Comstock, who won in a 17-point rout.  Krysten Sinema continued her trailblazing tenure as the first openly bisexual member of Congress.  Probably equally impressive is the fact that she could get elected to Congress twice despite having no religious affiliation.

Overall, I had predicted a 2-4 seat gain by Republicans in the House, and that turned out to be way off, as Republicans gained 13 seats.  In August, I had underestimated the strength of the Republican national mood, and thought they were a tad overextended in the House.  One could argue that they are overextended now, and Democrats will probably pick up at least a few seats in 2016, especially if the Democratic candidate wins the presidency.

Rep. Krysten Sinema (D-AZ)

Rep. Krysten Sinema (D-AZ)

Senate

State Democrat Republican Independent Winner
Montana Amanda Curtis Steve Daines Daines
West Virginia Natalie Tennant Shelley Moore Capito Capito
South Dakota Rick Weiland Mike Rounds Larry Pressler Rounds
Michigan Gary Peters Terri Lynn Land Peters
Colorado Mark Udall Cory Gardner Gardner
Arkansas Mark Pryor Tom Cotton Cotton
Georgia Michelle Nunn David Perdue Perdue
Kentucky Alison Lundergan Grimes Mitch McConnell McConnell
Kansas Pat Roberts Greg Orman Roberts
Alaska Mark Begich Dan Sullivan Sullivan
Louisiana Mary Landrieu Bill Cassidy Cassidy
Iowa Bruce Braley Joni Ernst Ernst
North Carolina Kay Hagan Thom Tillis Tillis

My predictions once again underestimated Republican strength here, as I missed Republican wins in Colorado, Iowa, and North Carolina.  Many believe that Bruce Braley’s loss was solely due to foot-in-mouth disease.  But if you dig into the results, his numbers among non-college educated whites were much lower than most Democratic candidates’ in Iowa have been.  This is a trend that could hurt Democrats in the long run if it continues.  Kay Hagan was a victim of polls that were skewed toward Democrats nationally.  Her lead was just small enough that it evaporated once the polling error was known.  Cory Gardner ran a well-disciplined campaign in a favorable environment and was able to upset Mark Udall.  I did correctly call the Kansas race, despite many pundits believing Orman had a good chance as he opened up a polling lead.

One Senate race that wasn’t initially on my radar ended up very close, with Mark Warner fighting off a very spirited challenge from former RNC chair Ed Gillespie in Virginia.  Like Hagan, Warner was a victim of the national polling error.  The RealClearPolitics polling average had him up 9.7 points, but he squeaked out to a victory of less than a percentage point.  Lack of enthusiasm among Democrats and a perception that Warner would coast to reelection probably combined to give us this surprising result.

Ed Gillespie nearly upset Mark Warner in Virginia's Senate race.

Ed Gillespie nearly upset Mark Warner in Virginia’s Senate race.

Gubernatorial Races

State Democrat Republican Independent Winner
Maryland Anthony Brown Larry Hogan Hogan
Alaska Sean Parnell Bill Walker Walker
Pennsylvania Tom Wolf Tom Corbett Wolf
Arizona Fred DuVal Doug Ducey Ducey
Arkansas Mike Ross Asa Hutchinson Hutchinson
Illinois Pat Quinn Bruce Rauner Rauner
Georgia Jason Carter Nathan Deal Deal
Ohio Ed FitzGerald John Kasich Kasich
South Carolina Vincent Sheheen Nikki Haley Haley
Colorado John Hickenlooper Bob Beauprez Beauprez
Connecticut Dan Malloy Tom Foley Malloy
Florida Charlie Crist Rick Scott Scott
Hawaii David Ige Duke Aiona Mufi Hanneman Ige
Maine Paul LePage Mike Michaud Eliot Cutler LePage
Kansas Paul Davis Sam Brownback Brownback
Wisconsin Mary Burke Scott Walker Walker
Michigan Mark Schauer Rick Snyder Snyder

My gubernatorial predictions were much less accurate, as I missed the mark in Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Maine, and Kansas.  Many of these were close races to begin with, so the results weren’t too shocking.  Connecticut bucked the national trend and kept its Democratic governor despite controversial budget decisions.  Revelations that his opponent paid no income taxes in recent years probably led a lot of people to cast a clothespin vote for the incumbent.  Paul LePage emerged victorious again in Maine despite doing everything in his power to scare voters away, and once again center-left Indpendent Eliot Cutler played spoiler, pulling in a much greater share of the vote (8.4%) than LePage’s margin of victory (4.9%).  This result happened even after Cutler released his supporters to vote for another candidate late in the race, possibly fearing that he was helping LePage win amid improving polling numbers for the incumbent.

Far and away the most surprising result on Election Day, though, was former Secretary of Appointments Larry Hogan winning in Maryland, one of the bluest states in the nation.  There were hints very late in the race that Hogan might pull it out, as Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown’s poll numbers deteriorated, and a late poll showed Hogan ahead by close to his eventual winning margin of 4.7%.  This probably hampers exiting Governor Martin O’Malley’s chances of running for President in 2016, though that was always a long shot.  In Alaska, the fusion ticket of Independent Bill Walker and Democrat Byron Mallott prevailed, and Alaska will have its first Independent governor in the state’s history, fitting for a state that is often politically idiosyncratic.  Overall, the Republicans netted three governorships, compared to my prediction of the Democrats netting one.

Larry Hogan, Maryland's surprising Governor-elect.

Larry Hogan, Maryland’s surprising Governor-elect.

So why did this happen?  In my opinion, the Republican victories had a lot to do with President Obama and Democratic campaign strategy.  The American people were fed up with what had become a disengaged President.  I am (still) a supporter of Obama, but his greatest weakness as President was his disdain for retail politics.  This first showed itself in the passage of the health care bill.  Obama let the Republicans control the debate, and they were able to label it as a socialist piece of garbage, even despite polls showing that Americans supported what was in the bill.  And just as people were starting to come around on the issue, the rollout of the healthcare.gov website was bungled.  This “run away from my own record” mentality filtered down the ballot, and was especially true among Democrats running in red states, with some refusing to even admit that they voted for Obama.  Obama’s middling-to-bad approval ratings are probably at least partially due to this as well.  The demographics of the midterm electorate probably didn’t help matters either.  Interestingly, Obama has become more engaged since the elections, firing a shot across Congress’ bow on immigration, and working diligently on normalizing relations with Cuba.

It will be interesting to see what implications these developments will have for the 2016 elections.  Republicans now have a deep bench of potential candidates in many states, and have for now seemed to bridge the divide between the mainstream of their party and the Tea Party faction.  Democrats have a few things to hang their hats on as well.  The economy is rebounding in a big way, and they have a strong, experienced contender for President in Hillary Clinton that could produce some coattail effects and help them in downballot races.  But it’s not worth digging into 2016 too much when even the Iowa Caucus is still 410 days away and there are a few interesting gubernatorial clashes happening in 2015.  But you can be sure that The Jam will be here to cover it!

 

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