The Lessons Of 2014

The votes are still being counted in a handful of races around the country, the winners are still basking in their victories, the losers are trying to figure out what went wrong.  Of course, that hasn’t stopped those from already obsessing over 2016.  We’ll have plenty of time to prepare for those elections, both presidential and congressional.  I’m not ready to let go of 2014 just yet.

Republican 001There have been a lot of interesting interpretations of what happened on Nov. 4th.  It’s really good news for the Democrats, some have said, because they will retake the Senate in 2016.  (“Just look at the numbers!”)  Or, it’s great news for Hillary Clinton, because it allows her to distance herself from President Obama, and gives her the opportunity to run against a do nothing/extremist/ obstructionist Congress (take your pick) in two years.

Here’s an easier story line:  the Democrats got whipped.  Badly.  Obama didn’t help and, in more instances than the White House is willing to acknowledge, he hurt his fellow Democratic candidates.  Whether he stayed out or came in, the results were pretty much the same.  Republicans won in red states and blue states.  They took over the Senate, they added to their House majority, they gained more governors and state legislatures.  Seems pretty clear cut.

Of all the key Senate races that everyone was watching and that have been called by now (Alaska is still outstanding), only one — New Hampshire — didn’t go the GOP’s way.  In the battles for governor, not only did the Republicans hold onto the most vulnerable of their bunch — most notably Rick Scott in Florida, Paul LePage in Maine and Sam Brownback in Kansas — but they even won in states where they had no business even being competitive; Maryland, for example.  Only three GOP incumbents in all — two House members and one governor (none in the Senate) — were defeated by their Democratic challengers: Gov. Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania and Reps. Steve Southerland in Florida and Lee Terry in Nebraska.  None of those was a surprise.  It may not have had the same jarring effect of 2010, when there was a GOP net gain of 63 seats in the House, or in 1994, when the 53-seat pickup gave the GOP the House for the first time in 40 years.  But in many ways the Republican victories of 2014 felt more overwhelming.  It was everywhere.  And come the 114th Congress, the party will have more members in the House than in any year since 1930.

Sure, this victory may be short-lived.  We’ve seen election routs get completely reversed two years later.  But that doesn’t change what happened last Tuesday.  A stunning defeat for Obama and the Democratic Party.  That’s what happened in 2014.

So many thoughts, trivial or otherwise, so little time:

Alabama — For the first time in state history, Democrats failed to put up a candidate for the Senate.

Republicans will hold both of Arkansas' Senate seats for the first time in history.
Republicans will hold both of Arkansas’ Senate seats for the first time in history.

Arkansas — It’s hard to think of another state where the Democrats’ fate has fallen deeper since Barack Obama became president.  Six years ago, Sen. Mark Pryor (D) didn’t even face a Republican challenger.  On Tuesday, he was defeated by freshman Rep. Tom Cotton (R) by 17 points — far greater than any poll predicted.  (The governorship also went to the GOP, with former Rep. Asa Hutchinson taking over for term-limited Democrat Mike Beebe.)  Even Bill Clinton, the state’s favorite son, came in to rally the troops, to no avail.

Colorado — You think Sen. Mark Udall (D) overdid it with the “war on women” campaign he waged against Rep. Cory Gardner (R)?  That’s one of the messages that came out of this one.  Truth be told, Gardner had once seemed quite vulnerable on the issue.  But Democrats may have overplayed their hand.  And Gardner won.

Florida — In a race between two gubernatorial candidates who were not especially likeable, it was clear that Gov. Rick Scott (R) had more fans.

Georgia — Runoff?  January?  We weren’t looking forward to that possibility.  We like great election stories as much as the next person (maybe more), but the thought of a runoff election coming AFTER the new Congress is sworn in next January seemed a bit much even for us.  So, there is a sense of relief that the election — where David Perdue (R) defeated Michelle Nunn (D) — was settled now instead of later.  And in a side note, all the stories about political dynasties took a bigger hit here than anywhere else with the defeats of Sam Nunn’s daughter for the Senate and Jimmy Carter’s grandson for governor.

The first woman Iowa has ever elected to the House or Senate.
Democrats failed to hold onto Tom Harkin’s seat.

Iowa — Sends its first woman ever (Republican Joni Ernst) to the Senate, leaving just three states — Delaware, Mississippi and Vermont — that have never sent a woman to Congress.

Kansas — Maybe the thought of asking voters to rally behind a Senate candidate who refused to reveal what party he would caucus with is what ultimately helped Pat Roberts (R) survive the only scare of his career — and the only Senate scare for Kansas Republicans in 40 years (when Bob Dole narrowly survived the 1974 Watergate midterm election).  The real surprise was that it wasn’t particularly close — Roberts won comfortably over Greg Orman (I).  Were the pollsters way off or was there a late surge for Roberts?  We were also under the impression that Gov. Sam Brownback (R) had done everything he could — purging GOP moderates, weakening the state economy with hefty tax cuts — to put a Democrat in the governorship.  It didn’t happen.  Another big surprise.

Kentucky — OK, so whom did Alison Lundergan Grimes vote for in 2012?  If there was any doubt that Tuesday was going to be a good night for the Republican Party, it ended with the very early call of Mitch McConnell winning a sixth term handily.

Louisiana — The race for Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D) seat is going to a December runoff.  That was always a given.  The only difference is that it no longer will affect which party controls the Senate.  That story is over … as is the career of freshman Rep. Vance McAllister (R), the so-called “kissing congressman.”  He finished third in the “jungle primary” and was eliminated from advancing to the runoff.

Maine — Gov. Paul LePage (R) was re-elected?  Seriously?  Even with Sen. Angus King (I) and independent gov. candidate Eliot Cutler both saying that voters should avoid voting for the independent and instead back Democrat Michael Michaud in order to keep LePage from repeating his 2010 upset by profiting from a split opposition?  This was an eyebrow raiser.  Had he won, Michaud would have been the nation’s only openly gay governor.

Maryland — A Republican governor in Maryland?  Seriously?  Larry Hogan’s (R) election was remarkable, only the third time in nearly 60 years the state elected a GOP governor.  An equally important message may be that the rejection of Democratic candidate Anthony Brown, the lt. gov. and designated successor of outgoing Gov. Martin O’Malley, may have sent a very strong discouraging signal to O’Malley, who is hoping to sell himself as a Dem alternative to Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Minnesota — The comfortable re-election of Sen. Al Franken (D) was not a surprise.  But it is worthwhile to remember that he first won his seat six years ago by just 312 votes.

Nevada — The landslide second-term win for Gov. Brian Sandoval (R), the big victory of his LG pick (Mark Hutchison) and the GOP taking both houses of the state legislature have all given Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid something to think about.  Even though he will no longer be leading the majority, Reid remains a top target for 2016, and at this juncture he could be vulnerable.  True, we said this about Reid in 2010, when he survived against suspect opposition.  But this time things look much more onerous for him.

Kay Hagan's comments about Obamacare were music to Republican admakers.
Kay Hagan’s comments about Obamacare were music to Republican admakers.

North Carolina — The least expected Senate result of the night.  Nate Silver had Sen. Kay Hagan’s (D) chances of a second term at 73%; the New York Times had it at 82%.  Republican Thom Tillis had other ideas.

PennsylvaniaTom Corbett, the Republican governor, lost his bid for a second term in a big Republican year.  But no one was surprised; he seemed to be a dead man walking for more than a year, and he never could recover.  He becomes the first governor defeated since state law that was passed in 1968 allowed its incumbents to seek re-election.

Rhode IslandGina Raimondo (D) becomes the state’s first female governor.

Utah — We always said, if a black female Republican was ever going to win an election to Congress, it would come in the most likely of states, Utah.

Vermont — Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) held on in another race that was not supposed to be tight.  He didn’t even surpass 50%, but that won’t be a problem in a state with an overwhelmingly Democratic state legislature (which gets to choose Vermont governors if no one gets a majority of the vote).

Virginia — How is it possible that a Senate race that was not on anyone’s watch list — the one between incumbent Democrat Mark Warner and seemingly longshot GOP challenger Ed Gillespie — was so close?  In a state where Republicans took a beating just last year and seemed leaderless, Gillespie could be the face of the party’s future (governor 2017?).

Wisconsin — Perhaps the most closely watched race of the night.  But ultimately, it wasn’t that close, as Gov. Scott Walker (R) — a potential presidential candidate — won for the third time (including the 2011 recall election) in four years.

West Virginia — The longest GOP Senate losing streak is over.  Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R) won the seat of the retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D), becoming the first Republican to win a Senate seat here since 1956.  She’s also the state’s first female senator.

Still awake?  Here’s some more stuff.

Black/Hispanic vote.  If there were to be any sizable/meaningful black vote that benefited the Democrats, we might have seen it in the North Carolina or Georgia Senate races; yet, Republicans took both.  Similarly, Democrats hoped for a strong Latino vote in the Colorado Senate contest.  That too resulted in a GOP pickup.

Tim Scott 001Blacks.  In the Senate, Cory Booker (D) was re-elected in New Jersey and Tim Scott (R), who was appointed to fill the seat of the resigned Jim DeMint in 2012, won his election — the first African-American senator ever directly elected in the Deep South (also, the first black elected to both the House and Senate).  Two new African-American Republicans were elected to the House:  Will Hurd in Texas 23, and Mia Love in Utah 04.  Love, who won the seat vacated by Democrat Jim Matheson, becomes the first black female Republican ever elected to Congress.  Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) won the seat vacated by fellow Democrat Rush Holt.  Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.) was defeated for re-election.  The lone African-American governor, Democrat Deval Patrick of Mass., retired this year.  Anthony Brown, the lt. gov. of Md., unexpectedly lost his bid to succeed term-limited Martin O’Malley, his fellow Democrat.

Capito 001Women:  Two new women in the Senate, both Republican: Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.) and Joni Ernst (Iowa).  One Democratic incumbent, Kay Hagan of N.C., was defeated.  Susan Collins (R-Me.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) were re-elected.  Mary Landrieu (D-La.) is forced into a Dec. 6 runoff, where most observers think she won’t survive.  Senate hopefuls Michelle Nunn (D-Ga.), Alison Lundergan Grimes (D-Ky.), Shenna Bellows (D-Me.), Terri Lynn Land (R-Mich.), Amanda Curtis (D-Mont.), Connie Johnson (D-Okla.), Monica Wehby (R-Ore.), Joyce Dickerson (D-S.C.) and Natalie Tennant (D-W.Va.) all lost.  Four incumbent governors were re-elected: Republicans Susana Martinez (N.M.), Mary Fallin (Okla.) and Nikki Haley (S.C.), and Democrat Maggie Hassan (N.H.).  Another woman, Democrat Gina Raimondo, was elected in R.I., but that gain was canceled out in Arizona, where Jan Brewer (R) stepped down.  Four Democratic women were defeated in their gov. bids:  Martha Coakley (Mass.), Susan Wismer (S.D.), Wendy Davis (Texas) and Mary Burke (Wis.).

Defeated incumbents:

Senate — Three Democrats lost: Kay Hagan (N.C.), Mark Udall (Colo.) and Mark Pryor (Ark.).  A third Democratic Mark, Begich of Alaska, trails Republican Dan Sullivan by about 8,000 votes as of this writing, but he has refused to concede, holding out for those uncounted rural votes to keep him in office.  No Republican senator was defeated.

House — Three Republicans went down to defeat.  Steve Southerland (Fla.) and Lee Terry (Neb.) lost to their Democratic opponents.  In Louisiana, Vance McAllister, finished third in the open primary and was eliminated.  But his seat is expected to stay Republican after the Dec. 6 runoff.  The following 10 Democratic incumbents were defeated:  Joe Garcia (Fla.), John Barrow (Ga.), Bill Enyart (Ill.), Brad Schneider (Ill.), Steven Horsford (Nev.), Carol Shea-Porter (N.H.), Tim Bishop (N.Y.), Dan Maffei (N.Y.), Pete Gallego (Texas) and Nick Rahall (W.Va.).

GovernorsTom Corbett (R-Pa.) and Pat Quinn (D-Ill.).

Up in the air.  As per POLITICO, these races have yet to be called:

SenateDan Sullivan (R) leads Sen. Mark Begich (D) by about 8,000 votes, with approximately 40,000 votes still to be counted.  There may be some kind of update on Tuesday the 11th.

Governor — Independent Bill Walker has a 3,000-vote lead over Gov. Sean Parnell (R).  Same as above.

House

Ariz. 02Martha McSally (R) leads Rep. Ron Barber (D) by 509 votes as of Friday, with 13,000 ballots still to be counted.

Calif. 07:  Ex-Rep. Doug Ose (R) has a 2,183-vote lead over Rep. Ami Bera (D), with thousands more to be counted.

Calif. 16:  This one wasn’t even close to being on my radar screen.  Johnny Tacherra (R) is up 741 over Rep. Jim Costa (D).

Calif. 26:  Rep. Julia Brownley (D) has a 1,028-vote lead over Jeff Gorell (R), and her lead has been increasing as the count continues.

N.Y. 25:  Another one that I didn’t think would be close.  Rep. Louise Slaughter (D) is clinging to a 582-vote lead over Mark Assini (R).  About 1,200-1,300 absentee votes will be counted this week.

My scorecard.  A pretty good night of predictions, at least in the Senate and House races.  Here’s where I went wrong:

Senate — I predicted a Republican net gain of 7, which is where it stands right now with Alaska uncalled.  Only one  wrong call:  North Carolina, where Thom Tillis (R) beat Sen. Kay Hagan (D).

House — I picked the GOP to win 12 additional seats to expand their lead, which was 234-201 (including vacancies) going into Nov. 4.  When all is said and done, Republicans may be up 13 or 14.  But as with the Senate, I had a good year predicting House races: only nine wrong calls.  There were three districts where I thought the Republicans would win but where Democrats held on:  Ariz. 01, where Ann Kirkpatrick was re-elected; Calif. 52, where Scott Peters won another term; and Minn. 07, where I thought that veteran Rep. Collin Peterson would fall.  And there were six districts where I failed to predict Republicans would win: Iowa 01, where Rod Blum (R) won the seat vacated by Democratic Senate candidate Bruce Braley; Maine 02, where Republican Bruce Poliquin won the seat of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud; Nev. 04, where Rep. Steven Horsford (D) was upset; N.Y. 11, where Rep. Michael Grimm (R) was re-elected; N.Y. 24, where Rep. Dan Maffei (D) got absolutely clobbered; and Texas 23, where Rep. Pete Gallego (D) fell.  If the still uncalled Calif. 07 (Bera vs. Ose) and Ariz. 02 (Barber vs. McSally) are ultimately won by the Democratic incumbent, and if Calif. 16 goes for Republican challenger Pacherra over Democratic incumbent Costa, those will be additional incorrect predictions.

Governor — My success rate in gubernatorial contests was much lower.  I called five of the 36 races incorrectly (winners in parentheses, incumbent with asterisk):

Republican victories (4): Fla. (Rick Scott*), Kan. (Sam Brownback*), Maine (Paul LePage*), Md. (Larry Hogan).

Democratic victories (1):  Conn. (Dan Malloy*).

Up in 2016.  OK, I succumbed to the pressure.  I didn’t plan on talking about it but I changed my mind.  Here’s who’s up in 2016.

Republicans (24):  Richard Shelby (Ala.), Lisa Murkowski (Alas.), John McCain (Ariz.), John Boozman (Ark.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Johnny Isakson (Ga.), Mike Crapo (Ida.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), Dan Coats (Ind.), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Jerry Moran (Kan.), Rand Paul (Ky.), David Vitter (La.)*, Roy Blunt (Mo.), Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Richard Burr (N.C.), John Hoeven (N.D.), Rob Portman (Ohio), Jim Lankford (Okla.), Pat Toomey (Pa.), Tim Scott (S.C.), John Thune (S.D.), Mike Lee (Utah), Ron Johnson (Wis.).

Democrats (10):  Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Brian Schatz (Haw.), Barbara Mikulski (Md.), Harry Reid (Nev.), Charles Schumer (N.Y.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Pat Leahy (Vt.), Patty Murray (Wash.).

*Vitter is running for governor of Louisiana in 2015.

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ON THE CALENDAR:

Nov. 12 — Lame-session session of Congress scheduled.

Dec. 6 — Senate runoff in Louisiana.

Jan. 3, 2015 — 114th session of Congress begins.

Feb. 24, 2015 — Chicago mayoral election (runoff, if necessary: April 7).

May 20, 2015 — Kentucky gubernatorial primary.

June 3, 2015 — Mississippi gubernatorial primary.

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Nixon VP 001This Day In Political History:  Sen. Richard Nixon, a California Republican, formally submits his resignation to Gov. Earl Warren, having been elected vice president the week before.  The resignation is effective Jan. 1 (Nov. 11, 1952).  Warren will name state Controller Thomas Kuchel (R) to fill Nixon’s Senate seat in December.  Since Nixon, six other senators resigned their seats upon their election as vice president:  Lyndon Johnson (D-1960), Hubert Humphrey (D-1964), Walter Mondale (D-1976), Dan Quayle (R-1988), Al Gore (D-1992) and Joe Biden (D-2008).

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