Pre- and Post-Election Lessons - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Pre- and Post-Election Lessons

Two large cross-currents in American political opinion will be the driving forces in today’s elections: A general dissatisfaction with government and politicians and a specific dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama.

These trends reinforce each other where a Republican candidate is challenging a Democratic incumbent but work against each other where the incumbent is a Republican. Overall, the dissatisfaction with Obama will be a stronger force in national elections, but on the state level incumbents of both parties will go into Tuesday night with trepidation.

Of course, candidates matter and just being not-a-Democrat will not always be enough for the GOP to knock off Democratic senators and congressmen for whom there remains some modest offsetting benefit of incumbency.

The good news for Republicans is that they do seem capable of learning: with a few exceptions such as the very weak Terry Lynn Land in Michigan, the party nominated electable candidates while mostly avoiding disasters like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock who harmed the entire Republican message and brand.

So let’s talk about what to look for on Tuesday night as returns trickle in to give a sense of just how large these trends are, not least because their impact will go beyond the next Senate session and into the 2016 presidential campaign, which will feel as if it begins hours after this election ends. This analysis will not be exhaustive; instead my focus will be on elections that I believe are close.

On the East Coast:

  • Prior to October, New Hampshire Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen led in every poll but one (out of a few dozen) against challenger Scott Brown, formerly of Massachusetts. Brown has been pushing hard on issues of national security, including ISIS and Ebola, and making substantial inroads but polls still suggest a small (1%-3%) Shaheen advantage. If Scott Brown wins this race, not only are slim Democrat hopes of keeping the Senate all but gone, but it would also be the clearest message of the night demonstrating the national negativity about President Obama (who has only been invited to campaign for one Democratic Senate candidate during this cycle, that being in Michigan against the aforementioned hapless Land). My prediction: Shaheen by a frustrating 0.8 percent as Brown just runs out of time. A Brown win here would be a dagger to the heart of Democrats — the first such opportunity on Tuesday night — and portend a great night for Republicans across the country.
  • Roughly the same analysis applies in North Carolina where Republican Speaker of the State House of Representatives Thom Tillis is challenging incumbent Democratic Senator Kay Hagan. An additional issue in this race, which we’ll discuss more below, is the horrendous race-baiting by Democrats, suggesting that voting for the Republican will cause more events like the Trayvon Martin shooting or the turmoil in Ferguson, Missouri. As with New Hampshire, the Democrat has recently held small but persistent leads in polls. And as with New Hampshire, a Democrat loss here means the near-certain end of Harry Reid’s position as Majority Leader. My prediction: Hagan by 1.5% in a state that deserves better.
  • Georgia and Louisiana both require a winner to garner over 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff. In Georgia, if Republican Senate candidate David Perdue somehow pulls out a win with over 50 percent of the vote over Michelle Nunn, that would also cause an early Democratic heart attack. However, the presence of a Libertarian could temporarily spoil the race for Perdue, and in politics a “temporary” setback can easily become permanent given the two months of further chances for GOP mistakes before a runoff. My longshot prediction: Perdue wins with 50.3% and avoids a runoff.
  • Because there are two (relevant) Republicans running in Louisiana, eventual likely winner Bill Cassidy will head to a runoff with incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu in December, which Cassidy will then win. (Again, the margin will be wider if the race will not determine the Senate majority than if it will.)
  • Two governors races worth watching: In Florida, Republican Rick Scott (unfortunately hard to like) is being challenged by former Republican turned independent and now Democrat Charlie Crist (impossible to like, not least because he has held every position on every issue as highlighted in this extremely effective ad.) Recent polls have shown a dead heat or a small Crist advantage, with a Libertarian candidate taking 6 or 7 percent of the vote. My advice to Libertarians — and I used to be a registered Libertarian — is hold your nose and vote for Rick Scott or you will be responsible for electing perhaps the worst governor in America. Because this is not a national race, the important trend is disgust with incumbents across the board. If Scott pulls this out, it will be more because Crist is such an unpalatable character than because Scott is a compelling leader. I hesitate to predict this race, mostly because my first choice would be the Libertarian if he could win, but I’ll go with Scott by 1.2%, hoping that Floridians wake up to just how terrible and unprincipled Charlie Crist really is.
  • And in Connecticut, incumbent Democrat Dannel Malloy seems to have a very slight lead over Republican Tom Foley. In that very blue state, Malloy annoyed everyone by signing a huge tax hike in 2011 (after campaigning against higher taxes). If Foley pulls out a victory in Connecticut, it will be more significant as a measure of dissatisfaction with Democrats and incumbents than the likely Republican win (for an open seat) in the Massachusetts governor’s race. My prediction, based on CT voters mostly being typical East Coast liberals who never learn, is Malloy by 2 percent, but I sure hope I’m wrong.

In the Midwest:

  • The Kansas Senate race has justifiably received a lot of attention, not least because the Democrats forced their candidate out of the race in order to leave a Democrat-in-Independent-clothing by the name of Greg Orman challenging incumbent Republican Pat Roberts. Recent polls show Roberts, who represents so much that appears to be wrong with the GOP — ancient, ossified, barely in touch with his state — having erased a double-digit Orman lead, primarily by arguing that a vote for Orman is a vote for Harry Reid and “the Obama agenda” while emphasizing the possibly critical role of this race in deciding which party holds the Senate majority. Perhaps more important than Roberts’ arguments is an ad in which Kansas State’s football coach Bill Snyder endorses Roberts. Snyder, who got in some trouble for the ad and asked that the campaign stop running it (they refused), is certainly more popular in the state than either candidate is. Orman also stuck his foot in it by appearing to call Kansas political legend Bob Dole a “clown,” which he’s had to spend time explaining. My prediction: Pat Roberts by a comfortable 3 percent.
  • In Iowa, former hog castrater Joni Ernst appears likely to win that state’s open Senate seat. At this point, a Democrat win here would be a surprise and a huge disappointment to the GOP. (More on this race below.) My prediction: Ernst by a wide 4.5 percent.
  • The most important race in the Midwest despite getting little national attention is the governor’s race in Wisconsin where Republican incumbent Scott Walker, detested by labor unions for his tax-cutting and weakening of public sector unions, is facing Mary Burke, part of the family that owns the Trek bicycle company. Polls suggest a modest Walker lead in this deep blue state. Democrats are desperate to topple Walker not just because of his policy positions and his political success but because a Walker victory would put him in a strong position to run for president in 2016. This race, more than any other in 2014, has direct implications for the presidential election two years later. My prediction: Walker by 3.5 percent.
  • At least as interesting as the Kansas Senate race is that state’s governor’s race where incumbent Sam Brownback has been slightly trailing in the polls despite having cut taxes and helped the state to an unemployment rate of 4.8%, far below the national average. This race suggests one of the clearest head-on contests between getting credit for implementing wise economic policy and being punished simply for being an incumbent. It also shows that conservative policies face headwinds even in nominally conservative states as people want everyone else’s goodies cut but not their own and don’t understand that tax cuts have long-term benefits despite increasing short-term budget deficits. Brownback’s most likely path to victory requires independents who are drifting away from Orman in the Senate race to simply stay home on Election Day. My prediction: Democrat Paul Davis by 1.7 percent in a red state that often elects Democratic governors.
  • Although it has much less national importance, the Illinois governor’s race will also be interesting to watch with recent polling showing the contest dead even. Republicans tend to be little better than Democrats (and about as corrupt) in the Land of Lincoln, though anyone would be an improvement over incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn. My prediction: Bruce Rauner by 0.7 percent, showing just how sick even Illinois is of Democratic rule at every level, but not really leading to much good change in the state.

In the Mountain West:

  • In my home state of Colorado, both the Senate and governor’s races appear winnable by Republicans who are challenging Democratic incumbents. Congressman Cory Gardner has held consistent recent polling leads against Mark Udall (more on this in a moment) while former Congressman Bob Beauprez is neck-and-neck against incumbent Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper, whose aw-shucks personality is somewhat insulating him against a record that Coloradans widely oppose, including his blind support of former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s anti-gun campaign and his refusal to execute mass murderer Nathan Dunlap. Colorado is not nearly as blue a state as recent elections suggest, but with many years of immigration from California and New York, it is also not as red as Republicans like to believe. My predictions: Gardner by 4.5 percent; Beauprez by 1.5 percent.

Way out West:

  • In Alaska’s Senate race, Republican Dan Sullivan will unseat incumbent Democrat Mark Begich by a 3.5 percent, closer than most recent polls, as Democrats get a large number of Eskimos to vote.

In this discussion, I’ve left out elections which I believe are “sure things” for the GOP but which are still interesting, such as Senate races in South Dakota, Montana, Kentucky and Arkansas — where rising star Congressman Tom Cotton will unseat Democrat Mark Pryor. I’m also skipping the Texas governor’s race where Democrat Wendy Davis, never likely to win, has utterly imploded with a series of strangely amusing unforced errors, and the Virginia Senate race where Ed Gillespie will lose by a wide margin to incumbent Democrat Mark Warner.

By the end of the evening, we should know that Republicans have gained seats in Montana, South Dakota, West Virginia, Iowa, Colorado, and Arkansas, enough to give them the Senate majority assuming they have held Kansas. Later in the night we’ll learn that the GOP has taken Alaska (but I won’t be awake for that.) If Georgia doesn’t go Republican by a wide enough majority to avoid a runoff, the GOP will still be looking at likely gains in Louisiana and Georgia in December and January, respectively. And there’s a real chance that New Hampshire or North Carolina will early in the evening end Democratic hopes for retaining a majority. In short, despite the brave or ridiculous predictions of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Joe Biden, and Josh Earnest (speaking for President Obama), I predict that by Tuesday night and no later than Wednesday morning, we will know — even without Georgia and Louisiana — that in January Mitch McConnell will be the new Majority Leader of the United States Senate.

What lessons will be learned from Tuesday’s results?

Perhaps the two best GOP candidates in critical and close races are Joni Ernst, running against Democratic Congressman Bruce Braley (not “Bruce Bailey,” as Michelle Obama named him) to fill the Iowa Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Democrat Tom Harkin, and Cory Gardner who is aiming to unseat incumbent Democrat Mark “Uterus” Udall in Colorado. (Mistake-prone Michelle Obama called Udall a “fifth-generation Coloradan” when that moniker actually applies to Gardner; Udall was born in Arizona, though his family has long ties to Colorado.)

What makes these candidates, along with former Army Ranger and Bronze Star recipient Tom Cotton, a breath of fresh air and likely to win races in which Democrats would have been expected to have an advantage? They push against the dominant public view of the GOP as the party of old, angry white men. Ernst and Gardner are both upbeat, young (Ernst is 44, Gardner is 40, Cotton is 37), and approach the campaign with big ideas and bigger smiles. They also can relate to a wide range of people due to backgrounds that mix farming (particularly important in Iowa) with military service (Cotton and Ernst) and a reputation for valuing problem-solving over partisanship (Gardner). The snotty elitists at the N.Y. Times sneer at the “bumpkinification” of politics. They still live in the world of fellow New Yorker (although a transplant from San Francisco) Pauline Kael. But voters will have the last word and they like people they can relate to.

In Gardner’s case, he has achieved the remarkable result of making the “nice guy” Udall look like the angry old white man in the race, completely turning the table on one of the Democrats’ few persistent electoral advantages, especially among young voters, independents, and women, which is why Udall’s previous edge among those groups has evaporated.

Gardner and Ernst (even if they don’t win) and Cotton show the way forward for Republicans. Tone down social issues in purple states. Have a strong and likeable personality in any state. Stand for something. Offer solutions. Smile.

Liberals are already making excuses: “Republicans should have put this election away a long time ago” (heard on CNN) and “As far as legislation, it really doesn’t matter if the GOP controls the Senate” (heard, or at least something like it, on Fox).

But this election has the potential to end with a more powerful Republican wave than current polls suggest. Those polls assume a particular makeup of the electorate, i.e. what percentage of young, Hispanic, and female voters — whom Democrats need to survive — will actually turn out to vote. Recent surveys suggest each of those groups being unmotivated by this election for a variety of reasons.

That lack of motivation goes directly to the Democrats’ poor — incredibly poor given their recent history — messaging during this campaign season, focusing on birth control and abortion in what George Will (speaking of Mark Udall’s campaign in particular) called “a relentlessly gynecological campaign” and sprinkling in some repulsive race-baiting, while leaving discussion of more pressing issues to Republicans.

The effect of this fixation on women’s reproductive bits (including in one of the most ridiculous campaign ads of the year) has women wondering if (or realizing that) they’re being taken for granted by Democrats, if not treated as idiots. For this reason, the most recent national AP poll shows that women prefer Republicans over Democrats by two percentage points to control Congress. That stunning result combined with a new Harvard study showing young voters — including young Hispanics — are willing to consider voting Republican shows just how much damage the Obama administration has done to the Democratic Party’s base in much the same way that George Bush and the Republican Congress of a decade ago tarnished the GOP brand — a brand that likely presidential candidate Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) says is still “broken.” Thanks to Obama, it’s just not as cool to be a liberal these days.

Similarly, it remains to be seen whether reprehensible race-baiting benefits Democrats by turning out black voters in large enough numbers to alter the outcome of close races or whether it backfires by turning moderate whites against candidates who would resort to such desperate, divisive, and unsavory tactics.

Both the birth control obsession and the racist pandering by Democrats point to their inability (or at least unwillingness) to even try to justify their support for liberal policies generally and the Obama administration specifically. Almost no Democratic candidate for national office has offered kind words for Obamacare. Michelle Nunn dodged the question of whether she would have voted for it (in much the same way that Kentucky’s Democratic soon-to-be-loser Alison Grimes refused to say whether she voted for Obama).

Bill Clinton’s campaign guru James Carville is famous for creating the mantra “The economy, stupid” for his boss. It worked. Most Democrats running for Congress have either avoided talking about the economy for fear of it tying them too closely to Barack Obama or have led with issues such as increasing the minimum wage or “pay equity,” the former quite popular with most of the public despite being terrible (and unconstitutional) policy. Yet they still find themselves unable to gain traction as the public worries about bloody headlines from Syria and Sierra Leone and a president more interested in playing golf than in doing his job.

The task for Republicans after taking the Senate majority will be to force President Obama to do his job, or at least force the public to recognize that he, not Republicans, is the true source of political obstruction. Some pundits wonder aloud whether Barack Obama will, like Bill Clinton after the 1994 midterms, look to compromise and pass important legislation. The answer is a resounding no, at least if the legislation would require him to give an inch on his Progressive agenda of soaking the rich to pay for increased government dependency by everyone else. Barack Obama is an Alinskyite narcissist, both traits that prevent compromise or the intrusion of reality into his thought process. My prediction: The new Republican Senate will pass, with some Democratic support, a bill to begin construction of the Keystone XL pipeline; Obama’s first faceoff with the next Senate will therefore be on an issue where the Senate knows it has the public (and several labor unions) behind it.

Obama will play his political games but will inevitably, despite attempted protection by the media, further damage what little reputation he has remaining outside of his leftist base. Thinking ahead, this means that Hillary Clinton, if she runs for president, will have to campaign against Barack Obama’s legacy, style, and even policies — a very difficult position for a Democrat to be in.

In 2015, Republicans will have to mostly sideline Ted Cruz’s aggressive (and self-serving) desires — though they should vote to repeal Obamacare and hold hearings on the worst abuses and failures of the Obama administration, including Benghazi, the IRS targeting of conservatives, and perhaps Fast and Furious.

Future Majority Leader Mitch McConnell must work with Speaker of the House John Boehner to pass legislation on issues of importance to the public (including tax reform and particularly immigration reform, which the public broadly supports despite the loud cries from various nativists and the economically ignorant), to send those bills to the president’s desk, and to take credit for governing whether Obama signs the bills or not.

Tuesday’s election will be a negative referendum on the Obama administration; the extent of Democrat losses may be tempered only by the damage Republicans have done to themselves over the past decade and the festering dissatisfaction among Americans about government overall. However, the upcoming Republican majority in both houses of Congress is the GOP’s best opportunity since the election of Ronald Reagan to show the country and the world that it is much more than the “Party of No” or of social issues “extremists” and that it is worthy of winning the presidency in 2016.

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