In the aftermath of last month’s elections, many political leaders are saying that there were some strong warning signs for the Tea Party forces and also for the Democratic Party from the voting. I am not sure that either side will openly admit that any real messages were sent by the voters, but privately they have to know the voters are not happy about the state of U.S. politics. In any event, it will be interesting to see how the mid-term elections, which are about one year away, will follow any patterns seen from the November elections. There were a number of outcomes where Democrats did very well in areas that were considered good for GOP candidates. For example, the win in the mayor’s race in New York City was huge for Democrats in that state and will have national implications.
Based on the results in two gubernatorial races that got lots of attention, the staying power of the Tea Party, the well-financed movement that burst onto the scene four years ago, was clearly called into question. Chris Christie, who is no favorite of the Tea Party bosses, swept to a landslide re-election as governor in New Jersey. His was said to be a case-study in how more moderate Republicans can reject the Tea Party and carry even Democratic-leaning states. It’s most evident that the Tea Party bosses won’t support a candidate they can’t control and Gov. Christie is a classic example of such a candidate.
Tea Party favorite Ken Cuccinelli lost his race for governor in Virginia against Democrat Terry McAuliffe. This was a contest that establishment Republicans believed they had a good chance to win. But now the party bosses are claiming a more mainstream GOP candidate, instead of one supported by the Tea Party, could have won that race. This win was huge for Democrats in a key state.
While the Tea Party took a beating in these two important races, Democrats should also look carefully at some of the factors involved in the November elections. They will have problems of their own down the road if they ignore the lessons sent their way by the November voters. The severely flawed rollout of the federal health care exchange gave the GOP leadership a much-needed diversion from the fallout from the government shutdown.
Democratic hopes for 2014 had been buoyed when voters heavily blamed Republican lawmakers for the 16-day government shutdown. Approval ratings for the GOP were driven to new lows. As a result of the shutdown, and its adverse effect on thousands of folks and on our nation’s economy, the non-partisan Cook Political Report shifted the ratings on 15 House races, moving 14 of them in the Democrats’ direction. In the House, Democrats need a net gain of 17 seats to regain control.
A number of Democratic senators are also in potentially competitive re-election races next year. Republicans need a net gain of six seats to win control in the Senate. The two most endangered Senate Democrats running for re-election could be Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska. While each of these Senators has done a good job, they may be hurt by the “Obamacare” issue. The GOP will try hard to pick up seats where Democratic incumbents are retiring in Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia.
It’s quite evident that Republicans are counting on Obamacare as being the defining issue of 2014. The bumbling start to a badly needed health care plan has given the GOP a new lease on life. The controversy surrounding the president’s signature legislative achievement is gaining traction, not as a result of Republican attacks, but because of the administration’s own fumbles. It’s difficult to understand how smart folks could have made such as mess of the start-up of the Affordable Care Act.
It will definitely be a real issue in next years’ mid-term elections. Ironically, what should have been a huge plus for Democratic candidates could wind up being their major obstacle. The Affordable Care Act could be an advantage for Democrats next year, but the Obama White House has lots of work to do in order to make the health care issue a plus for Democratic candidates. The enrollment snafus with the launch of the HealthCare.gov website can be overcome, but whether it will depends on how quickly things can be fixed.
The mid-term elections will be a test for the Tea Party, the dominant force in the Republican Party, and they have an uphill battle. Voter outrage about passage of the Affordable Care Act helped Republicans gain control of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010. Now, once again, it’s become an issue that the Tea Party zealots can take full advantage of in the mid-term elections. To really determine how strong that issue is, we will have to wait to see how things play out next year primarily in races for the U.S. House of Representatives. The Republican Party is badly split at the juncture and the split likely will grow wider in the months ahead. The fallout from Obamacare is the only thing that could save the GOP from a Democratic sweep.
The 36 gubernatorial races around the country will get lots of attention next year as well. These races include contests in some of the states that play big roles in presidential elections, among them Florida, Iowa, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Those races are very important and each will be hotly contested. The state Legislative races next year will also fall into that category.
Having looked at all the recent polls, it appears that the issue of Obamacare pretty much splits the electorate down the middle. Surveys of voters as they left polling places also show this very clearly. In Virginia, slightly less than 50 percent supported the Affordable Care Act, with a little more than 50 percent opposing it. Significantly, Democrat McAuliffe got nine of 10 votes of those who supported it. On the other hand, Republican Cuccinelli got eight of 10 votes among those who opposed it. There was an onslaught of negative news about the Affordable Care Act in the last week or so before the votes were counted in Virginia. It was one possible explanation analysts gave for a closer-than-expected race even though the Democrat won.
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