Democalypse 2014 Postmortem: An Analysis of the Midterm Bludgeoning


I don’t think too many people that were politically savvy were shocked that the Senate went red last night, but I think many were surprised at the extent of this thorough trouncing. It was clear from months — if not years — away that Election Day 2014 was going to be a rough one for Democrats. President Barack Obama’s home state of Illinois elected a Republican governor on Tuesday night. Massachusetts will have its first Republican governor since Mitt Romney. Maryland voters opted for Republican Larry Hogan over Democrat Anthony Brown. The lone bright spot for Democrats was in Pennsylvania, where Republican Tom Corbett was unseated by Democrat Tom Wolf.  When Obama took office, Democrats had 59 senators and 256 House members; after Tuesday night, they will likely have 45-47 senators and some 190 House members. That is a massive shift.

In the Senate the Republicans gained the majority and have 52 Senators though that number could increase as two independents could decide to caucus with the Republicans and two elections are undecided in Louisiana and Alaska. In the House Republicans gained seats to increase their majority and now have 243 seats.

National Analysis

It’s the economy stupid. Many Democrat candidates seemed to have forgotten that this is nearly always the #1 issue for voters in nearly all elections. Bill Clinton understood that message which is why he won and that phrase still resonates today. Republican’s very successfully and very systematically attacked Obama the entire year and by extension the economy and painted a clear narrative that America is on the wrong track. The fact that Obama’s approval ratings are stuck in the low forties summarize it pretty well. Right now, the country isn’t happy with the Democratic Party or its leader. And on Election Day, Democrats paid the price. I honestly do not think there is any one thing they could have done to stop this tidal wave tsunami of the red tide. American voters can turn on a dime and have very short-term memories when it comes to casting a ballot.

I think we also learned last night that the Obama coalition is not necessarily a Democrat coalition.Minorities and young people simply do not tend to vote in large numbers in mid-terms. Older voters are much more reliable and also much more likely to vote GOP.

Historically speaking we must also realize that in the 6th year of nearly all presidents his party will take a beating. This applies to Democrat or Republican Presidents. Since 1900, the president’s party has lost both House and Senate seats in 19 of the 28 midterm elections; in the other nine cases, the president’s party gained seats in both chambers three times, and gained seats in one chamber—but not the other—six times. The president’s party averaged a loss of 7.2 Senate seats and 37.4 House seats so this not not a new phenomenon and one additional element that needs to be factored in to any analysis.

What the Republicans Got Right

First, they ran good candidates by and large. They recruited conservatives whom voters saw as less hard right than the tea party from previous elections where they lost. They also ran a very good ground game with logistics and got people to vote. Their operations at the local level has vastly improved since 2012 and they adopted many of the successful Democrat strategies that worked well and used them against the Democrats this time.

They also were able to harness the anger of Americans and use that to their advantage. Voters are angry ay everyone in D.C. but nearly always focus that anger on the party of the president. Take a look at just how angry American were last night from these CNN exit polls. Just a few results from that poll: And about 8 in 10 Americans disapprove of how Congress is handling its job, according to a survey of voters outside of polling places on Election Day. Nearly six in 10 voters are either dissatisfied or angry with both the White House and Republican leaders in Congress. Less than a third of Americans are satisfied with the Obama administration and GOP leaders. And heading into the voting booth, seven in ten Americans said they were concerned about economic conditions.

Winning the election however was actually the easy part given the unpopularity of President Obama. In some races I think they could have ran a broom against a Democrat and won. The hard part will begin once they get a chance to govern. It is very easy to be out of power and criticize but quite another matter to actually put forth an agenda. As soon as the polls closed last night the 2016 election campaign began. At most I think they have around 9 months to actually get anything done before senators like Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and possibly others begin their campaign in earnest.

What the Democrats Got Wrong

Pundits are throwing around the term “A Wave” and that is certainly true. Although I think tsunami is more accurate. I think one big mistake is they need to stop allowing the Republicans to paint the narrative. The Republicans seem to be much better at creating the terms of the debate. A few examples include The Death Tax instead of estate tax, Family Values, climate change instead of global warming and a dozen other terms. Many of these were invented by a guy named Franz Luntz. They really need to find a Luntz of their own or at least stop allowing their terms to define the discussion with softer euphemisms. Additionally the Republicans have been savagely attacking Obama since the 2012 election ended and they have hardly set a word in his defense. As the unabated attacks continued his popularity continued to decline. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy. The economy is actually not doing that poorly and unemployment numbers are down in most states. There are a number of very positive things Democrats could have pointed to instead of simply allowing the Republicans to convince everyone the country was on it’s way to hell in a hand basket and a brigade of ebola infected ISIS terrorists were going to be parachuted in all over the country.

They also need to understand and never forget again that it is always about the economy. You will not win over women with an invented War on Women. Jason Carter for example focused far too much time and energy on education instead of attacking Deal’s vulnerable spot which was the economy here. By the time he finally got around to it Deal had managed to convince the state that it was #1 in the country for business. But in all honesty I don’t think there was much Jason Carter, Michelle Nunn,  or so many other Democrats that lost last night could have done to change the outcome. They could have possibly shrunk the margins but you can’t stop a tidal wave.

Other Take Aways From the Election

Minium wage – The Republicans would do well not to fight against this issue which seems popular in even very red states. Voters in Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota chose to increase their states’ minimum wages Tuesday, while those in San Francisco opted to start paying workers $15 per hour, matching the national high In Alaska, an overwhelming 68% of voters endorsed a minimum wage increase to $9.75 by 2016

Marijuana Legalization– Here is yet another area where Republican might need to stop fighting the consensus. Washington, D.C., and Oregon passed measures to legalize recreational marijuana use — the former approving it by a huge margin. Early Wednesday morning, several media outlets reported a close margin to legalize in Alaska would likely hold, too. Florida also put forth a medical marijuana initiative but it fell short of the 60 percent vote needed for approval.

Latinos are not as big a factor-Latinos make up more than 10% of eligible voters in just three states: New Mexico, where Latinos make up 40.1% of eligible voters; Texas, where 27.4% of eligible voters are Latino; and New Jersey, where Latinos make up 12.8% of eligible voters. In 2010, while 31.2% of Hispanic eligible voters voted, 48.6% of white and 44.0% of black eligible voters turned out on Election Day.  Latinos made up eight percent of voters in 2014, compared to 10 percent in 2012 and they picked Democrats by a margin of only 28 percent.

BN-FJ686_exitpo_WN_20141104214333Democrats need to attract more white voters – Bill Clinton managed to bring back many wayward white Democrats but many have fled again. The Democrats need to capture the center and woo moderates and independents. They can do this by stressing middle class friendly policies again. They also need to realize that many white and black Democrats are not as in favor of their version of immigration reform as they think. They need to advocate helping the poor with programs like Workfare and not Welfare. If you are able-bodied you should be able to either do work or be in school to get on the government dole with a plan in place to find permanent employment. To be successful, Democrats will have to convince white working class Americans that Dems sincerely want to represent working and middle class Americans and have their best interest at heart.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz and her “GOP’s Woman Problem.” also needs to be fired as the head of the party. She is clearly out of touch with reality. There is no gender gap. There is a racial gap. With unemployment still about 7% closer to 8% in Georgia, many of the benefits of healthcare reform still to kick in and bankers still running amok, it’s not like Democrats are offering much that would support the economic interests of the poor or middle class, regardless of their race. Why weren’t more bankers jailed for causing the economic collapse for example.

What would have been the outcome yesterday if Democrats had directly spoken to working class of all races and impoverished voters being crushed by the economy and by harsh policies that penalize poor and middle class people the most? After all, bold initiatives that unabashedly set out to benefit low-wage workers and people caught in the jaws of the criminal justice system won big Tuesday. Minimum wage hikes in Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota passed, as did California’s Prop 47, which challenges mass incarceration by reducing some petty crimes now classified as felonies to misdemeanors. People like certain policies like a minimum wage hike and many other Democratic policies they just don’t trust them to get them done..

White working class voters feel that neither party is really looking out for them or represent their interests. Most will tell you they think the Republican party is more concerned about keeping billionaires like the Koch brothers happy and the Democrats are more concerned with illegal immigrants rights and handing out welfare checks. It will require the rebuilding of grass-roots political organizations in white working class communities across America, modern and more genuinely participatory versions of the traditional Democratic “machines.” The Republicans have their political machines in place at the grassroots level with various clubs and organizations. White middle class voters aren’t really loyal to either party and if they feel left behind by Republicans next year expect they can switch parties again just like they did in 2008.

Final Thoughts

As a Georgia political blog I feel the need to say something about the races here in Georgia. I am not sure there was much Carter or Nunn could have done to change the outcome. Perdue successfully linked Nunn to Obama and Harry Reid and there was nothing she could do to escape that perception. Deal was an incumbent Republican in a red state so that alone made him hard to beat. Carter stuck to an education-first message much of the campaign, Deal built his re-election efforts largely around the economy and in the end that resonated more with voters. Carter also simply lacked the résumé to excite voters. Being only a state senator for a few years seems like quite a jump to governor. His debate performances were also very lackluster and he stuttered and searched for words far too often.

As I said earlier in the article I think the Republicans really will only have around nine months or so to get anything done. If they try and repeal Obmacare it will be vetoed so we are back to square one. But instead of trying to repeal it, if they decide to try and fix the parts most people agree are broken that would be a smart policy. There are many parts of Obmacare even most Republican voters actually like.

They also need to be careful to not think that America is suddenly in love with all their policies. They are even less popular than Obama. Minimum wage and marijuana legalization proves this very clearly. Americans were simply disgusted with gridlock and decide to give them a shot to control the Senate. A tax overhaul and a national energy policy are two areas where a Republican-controlled Congress could work with Mr. Obama.

The Republicans need to view the success in this election more as an opportunity than a victory.  In the next election they are going to run on the accomplishments of the next two years.  Mitch McConnell will be conscious of that, and will know that in two years’ time, when it is not just the Senate but the presidency in play, the American people could be venting their rage on him. Democrats would also be smart to consider replacing Pelosi and Reid as leaders since they are now so tarnished and discredited that they represent only a liability.

This map below should give Democrats still balled up in a corner crying some hope. There are a lot of red states up for grabs that the Republicans will need to protect. The 2016 election is just as advantageous to Democrats regaining the Senate as the one last night was to them losing it. One other important point to note is that the Democrats will likely have an easier time winning the presidency since the American people are reluctant to vote in a President of the same party that controls both the House and Senate.  In the 2008 election the Republicans controlled the Senate.  They prefer to have some checks and balance in place.

It is certainly possible that the Republican House and Senate will do an amazing job of passing bills that and the economy improves with them getting the credit. They would still need to select a candidate capable of defeating a reenergized Democrat party that should get a much bigger turnout than this mid-term.


2016 Open Seat map

2016 Open Seat map