After last night’s midterm elections, DPR’s staff broke down all the biggest races and offered some perspectives on what to expect going forward.
GOP Takes the Senate
Republicans were hoping to win a majority in the Senate last night. They got that and more. The GOP took a commanding lead in the upper chamber, winning 52 seats so far and taking 7 from the Democrats.
The night started off well for the GOP, as Mitch McConnell defeated Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky. He will most likely become the new Senate majority leader when the 115th Senate convenes in January.
Republicans also won big in almost all of the races expected to be close. Joni Ernst came out on top in Iowa, Thom Tillis beat Kay Hagan in North Carolina, Tom Cotton was victorious in Arkansas, David Perdue topped Michelle Nunn in Georgia, Pat Roberts held off a fascinating challenge from independent Greg Orman in Kansas, and Cory Gardner emerged the winner in Colorado. Dan Sullivan is also leading Mark Begich in Alaska with 100 percent of precincts reporting, although Begich has yet to concede and the race has not yet been called. Jeanne Shaheen won in New Hampshire in Democrat’s sole swing-state win.
Two races still remain of interest in the Senate. In Louisiana, neither Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu nor GOP challenger Bill Cassidy were able to get 50% of the vote. Under Louisiana law, the race will go to a run-off in December. Meanwhile, the race in Virginia between Democratic incumbent Mark Warner and Republican Ed Gillespie remains too close to call as of publication. Polls from late October had Gillespie trailing Warner by at least 7 points.
Lastly, a Blue Devil shout-out to the Senator-elect from West Virginia, Shelley Moore Capito. Moore Capito (T, ’75) joins Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (Med School, ‘88) as the second US Senator with Duke ties.
— Jacob Zionce
Republicans Grow Their House Majority
The Republican Party easily maintained its majority in the House of Representatives. As of publication,the GOP has picked up an additional 13 seats in the House, including Democratic strongholds like Illinois and New York, while fending off challenges even in districts Democrats targeted.
Duke graduates and incumbents Nick Rahall (D-WV) and Scott Peters (D-CA) both appear to have lost to Republican challengers, although Peter could still emerge victorious. He is down by 752 votes with 100 percent of precincts reporting, but up to 180,000 mail and provisional votes have yet to be counted. Democrats in traditionally blue districts fell, including Brad Schneider (D-IL), Tim Bishop (D-NY), and Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH). Even nineteen-term incumbent John Barrow (D-GA) lost his seat as the last white Democratic congressperson in the Deep South.
Within the overarching narrative of Republican dominance, several interesting races emerged throughout the night. Michael Grimm (R-NY) retook his seat despite a controversy-filled year and multiple criminal indictments. David Brat (R-VA), the appropriately-named David to former Majority Leader Cantor’s Goliath, beat out his colleague at Randolph-Macon College, Jack Trammell (D-VA). Mia Love (R-UT) became the first African American woman to serve as a Republican congressperson. Leadership will not change going into this next Congress, as John Boehner (R-OH), Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), and Steny Hoyer (D-MD) all won their reelections easily.
— Ray Li
GOP Wins Big in Gubernatorial Races
Governors also rode the 2014 GOP wave to key victories Tuesday night. In what many were predicting to be the closest gubernatorial race of the year, Florida Governor Rick Scott won reelection over former Governor Charlie Crist, who ran as a Democrat after switching parties in 2012. The race was decided by a mere 1.2 percent margin and was contentious enough that Crist filed to extend voting hours in Broward County. In the end, voters cited Florida’s improving economy as their motive for returning Scott to the Governor’s Mansion.
Republicans picked up another big win in Illinois, where GOP challenger Bruce Rauner defeated incumbent Pat Quinn. Rauner, a self-made billionaire, ran on a platform of “shaking up Springfield,” whipping Illinois’ budget into shape. He even took the unusual position of supporting an increase in the minimum wage. The voters responded—Rauner won by 5 percent in a state that has had a Democratic governor for over a decade.
In Massachusetts, two-term Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) lost her bid to become the first female governor in Massachusetts history to the socially liberal health-care executive, Charlie Baker (R). In a huge upset, Republican Larry Hogan defeated Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown to become Maryland’s next governor by a 7 percent margin.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is locked in a tight battle with Republican challenger Bob Beauprez. As of publication, this race is still too close to call. Both candidates declined to give speeches to supporters last night, as it was not clear who would be giving the victory speech and who would be offering their concession.
Meanwhile in Kansas, former GOP Presidential hopeful Sam Brownback defeated Kansas House minority leader Paul Davis to win re-election. Brownback has been on a mission to make Kansas a paragon of the “cut taxes, cut spending” model.
The GOP earned another big pickup in Wisconsin, where embattled Republican Governor Scott Walker easily handled Mary Burke. Walker survived union and liberal group attacks and a possible campaign violation to keep his name in the conversation for the 2016 GOP Presidential nomination.
The lone bright spot of the night for Democrats was Tom Wolf defeating Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett—Corbett was attacked for drastic cuts to education funding.
— Zach Gorwitz[divide]
North Carolina Recap
Speaker of the House Thom Tillis emerged victorious last night over incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan in the most expensive U.S. Senate race in the country. Tillis received 49 percent of the vote to Hagan’s 47.2 percent with an approximately 53,000 vote margin. Libertarian candidate Sean Haugh received 3.8 percent. Considered an endangered Democrat for much of the election, Hagan was widely favored to win re-election in recent polls. Tillis’ victory helped give Republicans control of the U.S. Senate.
With few U.S. Congressional districts considered competitive, Republicans picked up a tenth seat, giving them control of all but three districts. 7th congressional district candidate David Rouzer (R) replaced retiring U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre (D) in NC’s 7th Congressional District. In a race that drew national attention, former “American Idol” runner-up Clay Aiken (D) lost to incumbent U.S. Rep Renee Ellmers (R) by 17.7 percent.
The Republican Party maintained its strong control of the state Legislature. As a result of recent redistricting, fewer than two dozen seats in the state Legislature were considered truly competitive, and almost half of the 170 seats were decided prior to Tuesday’s election, as candidates were running unopposed.
Voters decided in favor of a constitutional amendment that will allow people charged with a felony to waive their right to a jury trial in non-capital cases. This amendment makes North Carolina the final state to approve such a measure.
— Maya Durvasula[divide]
Looking Back and Moving Forward – Thoughts and Analysis From Last Night
There’s no question that Republicans outperformed the polls and the predictions tonight. There is a question, though, about whether or not the GOP’s big win will amount to a legislative mandate or a significant change in gridlock. After the dust settles, Republicans will have no more than 54 seats in the Senate. If they pursue a largely partisan agenda, they will have trouble overriding vetoes from President Obama or even a potential filibuster by the new Democratic Senate minority. Compromise will need to be a fundamental part of the new Republican Congressional majority in order to enact serious legislative change. However, at the state level, the opposite may be true. Big pickups in gubernatorial elections (including Maryland and Illinois) could continue to usher in sweeping conservative legislation in many states.
So where can we take away from this election?
Despite the lack of a clear ability to set a mandate, last night’s elections could help Republicans on two fronts going forward. First, the length of Senate terms means that Republicans will hold a number of swing seats under the new president. Should Obama’s successor be a Republican, this could mean that the GOP holds control over the presidency and both branches of the legislature. Should a Democrat win in 2016, the sheer number of GOP wins last night will make it harder for them to have a majority in the Senate. Second, the 2014 election could change the future of individual seats going forward. With the advantages of incumbency, seats traditionally held by Democrats, such as the Iowa seat formerly held by Tom Harkin, could now lean Republican.
For Democrats, the party must simply find a way to recover from devastation. With a minority in both houses of Congress, Democrats are set to start playing legislative defense. The days of talking about big policy priorities (immigration reform, raising the minimum wage, etc.) are likely gone for a while. The obvious possible solution comes in the form of a potential Presidential candidate by the name of Hillary Clinton, but if Hillary decides not to run or has issues along the way, then what? Outgoing Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s and Virginia Senator Mark Warner’s chances for a presidential run both took a hit last night, with O’Malley’s lieutenant governor Anthony Brown losing his bid and Warner only narrowly winning re-election.
The real challenges after tonight will be for President Obama and the new Congress. With fewer friends left on Capitol Hill and the President’s time in the White House dwindling, avoiding lame duck status will be difficult. But will the President simply bunker in and avoid any new Republican initiatives or will compromise become cool again in Washington? Unfortunately, gridlock has become common practice in Washington, and tonight just further proves that America’s government remains divided.
— Steve Brenner and Jacob Zionce