It was somewhat amusing, if not astounding, as I watched Fox News coverage of the election results Tuesday evening, to hear liberal commentator Juan Williams do his best to say this was not a “wave” election.
Williams kept saying this was an “anti-incumbent” election—that voters were so upset they were taking it out on those already in office. The only thing off-base in his analysis, of course, was that all the incumbents being tossed had a “D” after their names. The other analysts on the air with him found it difficult to stifle their astonishment at his pronouncement. To his credit, he did grudgingly admit later that this was, indeed, a wave in favor of Republicans.
The results showed, in one respect, that President Obama was correct: his policies were on the ballot. They didn’t fare well:
First, the Senate.
As of last count, the “official” number of gains for Republicans stands at seven, thereby giving them control of the Senate for the next two years with a 52-45 advantage at the moment. But we’re not done. There are three races still looming.
In Alaska, where incumbent Democrat Mark Begich has not yet conceded, Republican Dan Sullivan is four points ahead. All that remains is the tabulation of about 20,000 absentee ballots next week. For Begich to reverse the numbers, he would have to win roughly 70% of those, which is not just highly unlikely but a slim-to-zero probability. That will make it 53-45.
Then there’s Louisiana, where the state rules make it a requirement for the winner to break 50% to claim victory. On Tuesday, there were two Republicans running; their combined total was 55%. This now goes to a runoff in December where all Republican voters can back the single candidate, Bill Cassidy. The odds of incumbent Mary Landrieu pulling this off are about as good as Begich’s chances in Alaska. Make it 54-45.
Finally, there’s the startling surprise in Virginia. In a race where all the experts expected Democrat incumbent Mark Warner to run away with it, Republican Ed Gillespie ran so strongly that he led most of the night, only to fall short by less than a 1% margin. That means he has the right to call for a recount. I haven’t yet heard whether he will do so. This is a longshot, but if he were to be successful after that recount, it would be 55-45. However, the probability is that Warner will barely hang on and we’ll end up 54-46.
How devastating was this for Democrats? They lost incumbents in North Carolina, Arkansas, and Iowa. Republicans held every seat they already had, including Kentucky, where some thought Mitch McConnell would have a close call. It wasn’t close at all. Pat Roberts in Kansas, won handily when many thought he would lose his seat.
In fact, most of these Republican victories were far greater than the polls indicated. For instance, in Arkansas, Tom Cotton threw out incumbent Mark Pryor by a margin of 57-39%. That’s hardly what one could call a razor-thin victory; it was a trouncing.
Speaking of Arkansas, for the first time now, that state has no Democrats in Congress, neither in the House nor Senate, and its governor also is a Republican. Why is this so significant? Think of a former president who hails from Arkansas. Yes, the Clintons no longer have their home state as a base as Hillary moves toward the Democrat nomination for president in 2016. The transformation is now complete–Arkansas is a solid Republican state.
What of the House of Representatives? Some races are still being tabulated, but it appears that Republicans will up their numbers to close to 250 in the 435-seat chamber. That would be a post-WWII high. Some are saying it would be a record for Republicans going back eighty years. I’m not sure of the accuracy of that, but it is sufficient to say this is historic, and will put a lot of pressure on Obama.
Then there were the gubernatorial races. Again, they were catastrophic for Democrats. The Republicans upped their number of governors to more than thirty; they now control executive mansions in approximately 2/3 of the states.
Some of those gubernatorial victories were truly significant. Scott Walker’s reelection is Wisconsin, despite all the rancor directed against him, firmly establishes him as a potential presidential candidate should he decide to run for that office. Sam Brownback, in Kansas, was deemed a loser for reelection for sure by many prognosticators. They were wrong.
Most embarrassing of all for Democrats is that they lost the governorships of three deep-blue states: Massachusetts, Maryland, and Illinois. No one even had the Maryland race on their radar, but Republican Larry Hogan shocked everyone by beating the Democrat lieutenant governor 52-47%. And Illinois? Why is that so embarrassing? It’s Barack Obama’s home state.
I have to add this one. In my current home state of Florida, Governor Rick Scott was reelected in a very close race with former governor Charlie Crist. This was particularly satisfying for me and a couple million other Florida Republicans. Crist could be in the running for the title of the oiliest, most unprincipled politician in the nation. He has now lost, though, as a Republican, an independent, and a Democrat. What’s left? Is he going to head the Libertarian ticket next time? Some pundits are joking he may have to move to another state to try again. I’m hoping we have seen the last of him in the political arena.
One more indicator that few have mentioned is this: state legislatures, of which there are 99 (state houses and senates in 49 states and a unicameral legislature in Nebraska), now have Republican majorities in 66 of them–2/3 of the total. Couple that with 2/3 of the states now with Republican governors, and you have a recipe for positive change at the state level.
So what does all this mean for President Obama?
Is he now a true lame duck? Will he perhaps change his approach and work with Republicans? If yesterday’s news conference means anything, he hasn’t even considered rethinking either his ideology or his tactics.
Will there be substantive change coming out of this election cycle? I’m reminded of an example in American history. On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress passed a resolution for independence. Delegate John Adams was elated, much as Republicans are today. But he understood the challenges ahead. Here is what he wrote to his wife, Abigail, about the passage of the independence resolution:
You will think me transported with enthusiasm, but I am not. I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure that it will cost to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the gloom I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is worth more than all the means.
In the same way, Republicans are enthusiastic about these results, but they know what lies ahead. It’s one thing to win those offices, but another entirely to accomplish what needs to be done. Will they have the backbone and proper strategy to do what they’ve been elected to do? I’m sure that will be the subject of many a future post.