Follow the Soapbox
 
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Alternet
by Steven Rosenfeld
11/05/2014


November 4, 2014  |     The politics of anti-government rage, fueled by dark money negative ads emerged victorious on Tuesday, as the Republican Party won a U.S. Senate majority and re-elected right-wing governors despite Democrat and progressive organizations' determined efforts to turn out their base.

While there were some bright spots for progressives, such as minimum wage increases passing in Nebraska and Arkansas, and legalizing recreational marijuana in Oregon and in Washington DC, the national political landscape has taken a hard turn to the right. Differing Republican Party factions have been empowered in ways that will resonate well into the 2016 presidential election—from anti-regulatory corporatists taking control in Congress to union-bashing, anti-choice, anti-voting rights governors dominating their states.

The GOP Senate victory had been predicted by many national political experts, however the losses in governors’ races were surprising because many of the extremist incumbents faced very tough challenges, such as in Florida, Wisconsin, Kansas and Maine, where they had deep records of policy failures, from tax cuts creating deficits, to gutted school spending, to shredded safety nets, as well as attacks on voting rights and organized labor.

The Republican victors quickly took to the airwaves and proclaimed that the country was heading in the wrong direction under President Obama and a Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate, and pledged to rectify those mistakes—although most of their campaigns never precisely stated how or what they would do differently, except to dismantle Obamacare.

In his victory remarks, Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, who will be Senate Majority Leader, said he had an obligation to work with the President. What that really means is an open question, because many Republicans who are newly elected to the Senate made lots of extreme statements in their primaries—such as Iowa Senator-elect Joni Ernst calling for President Obama’s impeachment, privatizing Social Security and fetal personhood rights—before tacking to center to reposition themselves for the fall election.  

Part of that tact to the middle in congressional races came after the nation’s top corporate lobby, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, aggressively spent millions to defeat Tea Partiers in Republican primaries, saying they wanted a Congress that would be better-behaved—meaning it would do its bidding. One victorious U.S. House candidates was Virginia’s Barbara Comstock, who was a notorious opposition researcher for Republicans and then a lobbyists for a long list of corporate clients, including Koch Industries.     

Nationally, Republican candidates campaigned more against the White House than what they wanted to get done. Many Republican lawmakers interviewed on various networks tried to strike an optimistic note, saying they want to accomplish things. Yet they ran on dismantling Obamacare bit by bit, such as repealing a medical device tax that funds it, increasing the numbers of hours worked per week to be eligible for coverage, and repealing the law’s requirement that all Americans have a health care plan.

“They [voters] want change,” South Dakota’s Senator-elect Mike Round, its ex-governor, told NPR. “They want to see Obamacare repealed on a section by section basis… They want to see the Keystone XL Pipeline built… They want to see the Environmental Protection Agency brought under control; the best example is their new carbon tax… There are lot of issues out here that people see that they want us to do; a lot of it has to do with the bureaucracy being out of control.”

In coming weeks, you can expect the White House and its short-lived Democratic Senate to approve federal judicial nominees, a new U.S. Attorney General and other policies—possibly including immigration reforms by executive order—that would go nowhere once the GOP takes power in 2015. One astute commentator said the upcoming congressional session will be like a game of political chicken, where bills are passed and sent to the White House as tests to see what Obama will veto, or come back to negotiate. 

A Republican Night, A Historic Pattern

Republicans across the country largely reasserted the historic pattern that the political party that does not hold the White House wins big in non-presidential election years.

In the Senate races, Republicans knew before midnight Eastern time that McConnell would be the new Senate Majority and a host of combative governors, including some likely 2016 presidential candidates, had been re-elected. Republicans needed to pick up six seats to gain the Senate majority, and saw successive victories unfold in Kentucky, West Virginia, Arkansas, South Dakota, Montana, Colorado, North Carolina and Iowa.

Election Night unfolded slowly with few early surprises. The GOP’s first big win was McConnell defeating Democrat Alison Grimes. The next three Republican pickups came quickly, with West Virginia’s Shelly Moore Capito, Arkansas’ Tom Cotton, and South Dakota’s Mike Rounds all winning seats previously held by Democrats. Only Cotton defeated an incumbent, Arkansas Democrat David Pryor. The rest were open seats.   

In early evening governor race results, Pennsylvania’s Republican Gov. Tom Corbett lost to Democrat Tom Wolf. Corbett was elected in 2010’s Tea Party wave and quickly made major cuts to corporate taxes and public school budgets, following a template also used by other rightwing governors who faced tight races this year. He was behind in polls, so that outcome was not unsurprising.

Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu, another Democratic senator seen as endangered, was spared early in the evening as no candidate in her race got more than 50 percent. She will be in a runoff against Republican Bill Cassady to be held in early January. Shortly after that, the Republicans picked up a fourth seat, with Montana’s Mike Daines winning the seat that was left open after Sen. Max Baucus resigned to become U.S. Ambassador to China. In that race, the Democrat appointed to fill Baucus’ seat, John Walsh, withdrew after being exposed by the New York Timesin a plagiarism scandal. 

The fifth Republican Senate pickup was Colorado’s Cory Gardner, a strident rightwing congressman who tacked to the middle and defeated the Democratic incumbent, Sen. Mark Udall. Gardner’s victory is seen as typifying the Republican strategy for 2014, where the party’s corporate wing opposed Tea Partiers in the primaries. Gardner, who was elected to the House as a Tea Partier, backed away from prior pro-life positions, saying that he now would support over-the-counter contraception and oppose fetal personhood rights.

In Georgia, Democrat Michelle Nunn conceded to supporters just after the 11 P.M. news on the East Coast, leaving that seat in Republican hands.

The sixth Senate seat to be picked up by Republicans was in South Carolina, where at about 11:30 P.M. the media announced returns showed that the Democratic incumbent, Sen. Kay Hagan, had been beaten by the state’s Republican Speaker of The House, Thom Tillus. A few minutes later, Iowa Republican Joni Ernst was declared the winner in that state’s contest to fill the seat left open by Sen. Tom Harkin’s retirement. That was the seventh Senate seat to shift from Democratic to Republican hands.

Exit Polls Showed Democrats Effort

The nationwide Election Day exit polls, conducted by a media consortium, is the most comprehensive poll taken in the entire campaign. Various news outlets publish excerpts from the poll to boost their coverage, which begins to explain in more detail what was driving voters.

In sum, Democrats did motivate their base to come out and vote, compared to the last federal midterm election in 2010. Excerpts on the New York Times website showed that many more Democrats turned out, with more women, people age 30-44, poor people, and college graduates voting. NPR’s commentators said that the same exit polls found only one-third of voters said that they were voting against President Obama, while 62 percent said that politicians favor the wealthy.

But, obviously, it wasn't enough. For example, NPR noted that while 10 percent more women turned out and voted for Democrats, 20 percent more men turned out and voted for Republicans.



 


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