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.
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.
|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|
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.
|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.
|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.
|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.
|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.
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!