Thursday, May 30, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Omens, Signals And Events

In only seven months the 2014 national midterm election
campaign will be at full bore, as they say, and although
there will probably be a few more retirements and incumbents
defeated in their own party primaries, the roster of candidates
and races is now emerging clearer and clearer.

So far, the omens, signals and events of the pre-campaign
period indicate a tide forming more to the patterns of the
2010 midterm elections than to the ones which occurred
in 2012.

Primarily, the number of U.S. senate retirements in
potentially key races supports this assessment. Eight
incumbent Democratic senators have retired, died or
resigned, and in all but one (Hawaii) there appears to be
Republican takeovers or highly competitive races ahead.
One of them, in Massachusetts, will have special election
in a month, and the GOP nominee, Gabriel Gomez, appears
surprisingly to have a chance against the usually favored
Democrat in this state. Three Republican senators have
retired or resigned, but those seats are expected to easily
remain on the GOP side.

In addition, several incumbent Democratic senators are in
political trouble, including Mary Landrieu in Lousiana,
Mark Pryor in Arkansas, Kay Hagan in North Carolina,and
Mike Begich in Alaska. Moreover, Al Franken in Minnesota,
Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire and Christopher Coons
in Delaware could be in trouble next year if the GOP finds
formidable opponents for them (which so far has not
happened). Two potentially vulnerable Republicans, Mitch
McConnell of Kentucky and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee,
are now looking more secure, and Susan Collins will likely
win in Maine if she runs. (If she does not, the Democrats
would likely pick up that seat.)

A recent development in the U.S. house races demonstrate
the Republican trend as well. Incumbent Republican
Congresswoman Michele Bachmann in Minnesota has
announced her retirement. A controversial and outspoken
conservative, Mrs. Bachmann almost lost her seat in 2012
in spite of the fact that her district is the most conservative
in the state. She faced a very competitive race in 2014, and
Democrats were planning to go all out to defeat her. This
seat now reverts to “safe” Republican.

In fact, so far there are indications that, in spite of having a
healthy majority now in the U.S. house of representatives,
the GOP might actually pick up 4-10 seats net in 2014.

What are the reasons so many recent developments signal
GOP gains in 2014? First of all, it will not be a presidential
election year. President Obama’s campaign effectively
turned out their voter base in 2012 while making their GOP
opponent a greater issue than any dissatisfaction with the
economy. Second, as was true in 2010, but not in 2012, there
are clear signs of voter anger about economic issues,
primarily the implementation of Obamacare that might
highly motivate voters at the polls. In addition, recent
“scandals” and controversies regarding the Obama
administration have not helped the Democratic “brand,”
and have put the liberal party on the defensive.

Nontheless, it is still early, and events could turn more
favorable to the Democrats. The stock market is at recent
highs, official (but not actual) unemployment figures are
trending more positively, housing sales and prices seem to
be moving upward, and our main international trading
competitors, primarily China, Europe and Japan have
perhaps even more faltering economies than the U.S. does.

The “rational” analysis of the 2012 election, before the
fact, was that the weak economy and high unemployment,
coupled with oncoming Obamacare, would produce a
Republican victory. But in order to defeat an incumbent
president, there needs to be widespread voter anger and
dissatisfaction. In order to defeat incumbent senators, the
opposition needs to field strong candidates. The Obama
campaign effectively defused voter emotions with reports
of slightly better employment figures, delaying Obamacare
implementation, and creating doubt about Mitt Romney.
Republican grass roots efforts, furthermore, produced
ideological candidates in some key races who turned out
to be disastrous nominees.

Even with these circumstances, the presidential race was
ultimately close, and the GOP had only minimal losses in
U.S. house races, keeping their majority. Only in the U.S.
senate races were the results clearly punishing for the GOP.

Anger, so far, seems to have returned to voter sentiment
in 2013, with prospects for more of it in then next 18 months.
Having stumbled in their recruitment of senate candidates
in 2010 and 2012, Republican leaders seems more engaged
in their own nominating process for 2014.

Minnesota was one of the most unadulterated triumphs
for the Democrats in 2012. Called the Democratic-Farmer-
Labor Party (DFL) in this state, they won back control of
both houses of the state legislature after Republicans
over-reached by introducing controversial constitutional
amendments on the 2012 ballot. With a DFL governor and
DFL-controlled legislature, the 2013 session produced much
higher income taxes, many more regulations, and an
unpopular measure to force day care workers to join a
union. Recent polls suggest that 2014 might not go well for
the DFL, but the state Republican Party, in heavy debt, is
demoralized, and so far does not have first-rank candidates
for governor and U.S. senator (even though recent polls
and controversies  indicate both could be vulnerable). As a
result, first-time untested conservative candidates are
moving into these races.

Elsewhere, however, the prospects for Republicans continue
to shine brighter and brighter. But it’s too soon to make useful
predictions, as we learned so well in 2012. The Democrats still
retain their superb registration and get-out-the-vote machinery,
and the domestic economy and world affairs remain volatile
and provisional.

Copyright (c) 2013 by Barry Casselman.  All rights reserved.

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