GOP wins big in Senate
It’s safe to say that the 2014 midterm sent a message. After the polls closed on Tuesday, Republicans found themselves gaining at least seven but likely nine senate seats, at most five but likely three governor’s mansions, and between 12 and 15 seats in the House of Representatives. This gave Republicans control of the Senate, their largest House majority since the 1920s, and two-thirds of the governorships in the country. Additionally, Republicans now control more state legislatures than they have at any time since 1860.
No matter how you slice it, Republicans had a great election and now control the vast majority of the country’s political centers of power, with the exception of the presidency. What makes this more interesting, however, is the fact that Republicans vastly outperformed every single predictive tool used this election. A bold pundit before the election would’ve had Republicans picking up seven seats in the senate, rather than the six they needed to take control of the upper chamber, in addition to picking up three or four seats in the house and losing a few governorships.
The polls also reflected this, showing tight senate races in North Carolina, Georgia, Kansas, Colorado, Iowa and Alaska and tight governor’s races across the board. Meanwhile, high profile democratic pundits started claiming that the polls were skewed toward Republicans, citing systematic under-sampling of Latinos and other minority demographics more inclined to be left-leaning. Even preeminent polling analyst Nate Silver wrote a piece before the election, claiming that 2014 would see GOP gains, but only because they were playing on favorable territory. For the most part, this election was to be simply a reversion to the mean of political control, erasing democratic advantages and leaving both parties with even control across the nation.
As it turned out, the polls were skewed, but toward Democrats and by an average of four points. Races that were supposed to be close ended up being double digit GOP victories, and surefire Democratic wins in Virginia and New Hampshire turned into last minute nail biters decided by less than two percentage points. Nobody saw GOP gains of this magnitude coming, regardless of the quality of analysis done. Instead of inheriting a broken Congress against a bitter president, the GOP achieved a strong mandate to govern, with the American people unilaterally rejecting Democratic candidates in all states, even electing Republican governors in deep blue Illinois, Maryland, and Massachusetts, and casting their lot to the right wing of American politics.
Now that the GOP has inherited this mandate, it comes to them to decide what to do with it. There’s no doubt the next few months will bring new challenges to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), as many GOP candidates who won in 2014 made their opposition to the President’s signature legislation a central part of their campaign. With the completion of this election, fully half of the senators who voted for the ACA are no longer in office, and the Republican House has time and again passed legislation repealing or altering the ACA in some way. This legislation was never brought up for debate in the Democratic Senate, but now that Republicans control the upper chamber, there’s no doubt that this issue will receive serious attention.
Additionally, a cursory whip count reveals that the Keystone XL pipeline very well may have the 60 votes it needs to pass the state and end up on the President’s desk, putting it only a veto away from approval. This may be another matter that the GOP Senate attends to within the first 90 days of their newfound political control.
Additionally, the Republican House of Representatives has passed numerous right-leaning jobs bills and budget proposals, namely Paul Ryan’s infamous budget that puts a lot of GOP policy ideas into the federal economic architecture. These were never brought up for debate when Democrats controlled the Senate, and the GOP will likely revisit them.
In sum, everyone thought 2014 would hand the GOP a little more control in what would remain a divided and dysfunctional government. Instead, the GOP gained a mandate to govern and work with Obama to make government work again. There is no doubt that after the election, the ball is in the Republicans’ court. They have the responsibility to bring about change in our national political environment, and start working to achieve the ends that voters put them in Congress for. This election has given them the power to do just that. What remains to be seen is how the GOP will use that power, and how Obama will work with them.