Fueled by big money, voter worries, GOP makes big gains

CHICAGO – The GOP won control of the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, increased its majority in the House, and won important governors’ races around the country.

With 70 percent of the public telling exit pollsters they were worried and angry about the economy and fearful of developments overseas, voters gave seats held by incumbent Democrats to the Republicans in North Carolina, Iowa, Colorado, Arkansas, West Virginia, Montana, and South Dakota. Sen. Mitch McConnell, despite a 52 percent negative rating in his home state of Kentucky, defeated his Democratic challenger there, Alison Lundergan Grimes. The GOP takeover of the Senate positions McConnell to replace Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., when the new Senate convenes in January.

The GOP victory in North Carolina, where Republican Thom Tillis defeated Sen. Kay Hagan, surprised those who believed she was leading only days before.

The Republican Senate takeover had long been predicted by pollsters. It is in line with what happens during midterm elections in the second terms of sitting presidents. Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Dwight Eisenhower, and Franklin Roosevelt all suffered huge losses in the Senate and the House during their second terms, with the president’s party taking the blame for economic problems in each of those elections.

In this case, however, the GOP, fueled by record spending by corporate and other right-wing sponsors, used new strategies and unprecedented ground operations to deliver a message that it was the president and his party that were responsible for all the county’s ills.

In a change from previous races, instead of running on issues like abortion, the GOP put forward people like Joni Ernst, the Senate candidate in Iowa. Ernst, a young woman war veteran who, in her victory speech extolled the virtues of the “values” she learned while being brought up in a poor household in rural Iowa, was able to snare voters despite her reactionary, anti-worker program.

Turnout among the groups that twice elected President Obama – workers, minorities women and youth – although not much different from the previous midterm election in 2010, was well below levels that were needed to counter the Republican drive. It was another confirmation that there are two different types of elections in the U.S. – national elections with a larger and more diverse electorate and mid-term elections that tend to  draw an older and less diverse electorate.

Lackluster Democratic candidates like incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn in Illinois who had alienated much of his base by slashing pensions for public workers over the last two years did not help the Democrats either. Quinn lost his reelection bid to billionaire Bruce Rauner.

In states like Colorado, where the GOP swept both the Senate and gubernatorial races, lack of enthusiasm by Latino voters may have kept many of them home, thus increasing Republican totals. “The president made a big mistake when he deferred executive action on immigration,” said Erika Andialo of the Dream Action Coalition. “When the Democrats were hoping to keep the Senate despite the President’s delay on immigration, we saw Latino voters rebuke Democrats at the polls, either opting to stay home or voting for another party.”

“After Democrats give the political weight to immigration that it deserves through an executive order, perhaps they will see the narrative that they are better on immigration begin to cement; certainly Republicans have done enough to alienate Latinos, but Democrats have done little to win and motivate them,” said Cesar Vargas, another coalition member.

Voter suppression measures in GOP-controlled states also helped keep down the totals for Democrats.

In Wisconsin, incumbent Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who won reelection, had pushed voter suppression laws after his infamous attacks on labor and public education. In Florida, where voting rights were curbed by the Republican state legislature, GOP Gov. Rick Scott was able to hold onto office against Democrat Charlie Crist.

Cory Gardner, a Republican congressman, defeated Sen. Mark Udall in Colorado. In Georgia, Michelle Nunn, the Democrat, lost to David Perdue, the Republican corporate mogul. Sen. Pat Roberts in Kansas beat back a challenge from Greg Orman, an independent.

The race in Arkansas showed that Republicans are staying away from radical tea party crazies when they select candidates. In that state, Rep. Tom Cotton, an Iraq War veteran with a friendly personality, toppled Democrat Mark Pryor.

In West Virginia, Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito won the seat that had been held by retiring Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat.

Not all the results were bleak for progressives, however.

In Pennsylvania, a strong push by unions and civil rights groups, teachers and parents ousted incumbent Republican Gov. Tom Corbett with Tom Wolf, the Democrat, winning.

In New Hampshire, Jean Shaheen, the Democratic incumbent, beat Scott Brown to earn him the  unique status of being the only male to be twice defeated for the U.S. Senate in two different states by two different women (he lost to Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts in 2012).

In New Jersey, Don Norcross, a member of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 351, was elected to the U.S. House. He had run on a strong pro-labor platform.

Voters may have chosen Republicans but they were not choosing Republican policies.

In states carried by the Republicans voters overwhelmingly supported initiatives to raise the minimum wage, for example.

In Public Policy polling conducted Tuesday voters in those states opposed, 86 percent to 6 percent, cuts to Social Security or Medicare and they supported, 76 percent to 17 percent, both equal pay for women and allowing students to refinance loans at lower rates.

All the victories for the minimum wage initiatives were in red states including Nebraska and South Dakota.

Voters also crushingly defeated so-called Personhood Initiatives in both Colorado, where the GOP won, and ultra-conservative North Dakota. Public Policy Polling also shows a clear majority – 54 percent – want abortion legal in most cases.

Incumbent Democratic gubernatorial candidates who took a strong stand against austerity in Tuesday’s election – Dannel Malloy in Connecticut and Mark Dayton in Minnesota – countered the national trend and won re-election.

Correction: An earlier version of this article described David Perdue as a “chicken” mogul. David Perdue is not affiliated with Perdue Farms Inc.

Photo: Election Day was a disppointing one for these union phone bankers. Their unions, however, like many allied groups and idividuals, have vowed to continue the fight for economic justice and human rights. AFL-CIO Now! Blog


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.