Thursday, September 4, 2014

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Home Stretch Begins

The 2014 national mid-term elections have now entered
the final turn of their campaigns. Less than two months
remain, and the number of truly undecided voters is
beginning to diminish with greater velocity.

A few weeks ago, some pundits asked aloud whether a
potential “wave” election was in fact going to occur. I wrote
at that time that “wave” elections rarely appear visible
until the final weeks and days of a political cycle, but that
signs do appear to indicate that one one might be forming.

I have suggested that a clear pattern of increasingly
vulnerable U.S. house and senate seats now held by
Democrats was just such a sign. I also suggested that most
of the notable “gaffes” of the 2014 cycle were happening
in Democratic campaigns (unlike 2010 and 2014 when they
occurred in Republican campaigns).

The latest example of the latter  took place in Alaska where
incumbent Democratic Senator Mark Begich, seemingly
holding his own in a close race with Republican challenger
Dan Sullivan, ran a spurious and self-destructive ad against
his opponent, an ad which he had to quickly withdraw. But
the damage has been done, and it has changed the race.

Earlier, Democratic Congressman Bruce Braley, his party’s
senate nominee in Iowa, made absurd remarks about his
Iowa GOP senate colleague Chuck Grassley, belittling the
fact that Grassley was an Iowa farmer. Braley, at that point,
was comfortably ahead of his eventual GOP opponent Joni
Ernst. The race is still competitive, but Braley has not
regained his momentum, and is now behind.

Appointed Montana Democratic Senator John Walsh had
acquired incumbency in his contest against GOP Congressman
Steve Daines, but revelations of earlier plagiarism forced
Walsh to resign his nomination, and the race is no longer in play.

Incumbent Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu, who is part of
a powerful family dynasty in Louisiana, had been leading narrowly
her GOP opponent Bill Cassidy, a physician, but new revelations
that she is spending more time at her residence in DC, and claims
her parents’ home in Lousiana as her state residence, have been
further negatively compounded by assertions that she is the
District of Columbia’s “51st senator.” The race could end in a
December run-off, but if Republicans win control without her, her
claim of senate influence would disappear, and she would likely
lose the run-off.

For a while, it seemed that Republicans were going to get by
“gaffe-free,” but the senate race in Kansas has been turned
upside down by allegations that GOP incumbent Pat Roberts
spends little time in the state, and has run a weak re-election
campaign. His Democratic opponent has just withdrawn from
the race, leaving independent Greg Orman, a moderate
businessman, as the suddenly new frontrunner. Roberts might
still win, but if he does not, it might not be a net loss for the
GOP since Orman has declared he will caucus with the party
which has the majority in the new senate. Nontheless, the sudden
political reversal is an embarrassment to the Republicans.

Another late-developing surprise have been polls in heavily
liberal (or blue state) Illinois. Not surprisingly, controversial
Democratic incumbent Governor Pat Quinn is trailing his GOP
opponent, but no one I know ever suggested that incumbent
Democratic Senator Dick Durbin was anything but a shoo-in
for re-election. Durbin, however, is under 50%, and his unknown
Republican opponent only 7 points behind, an unexpected
political shock. Durbin will still probably win, but now has to
take his race seriously in its final days.

Otherwise, several hotly contested senate races remain close,
including in North Carolina, Arkansas, New Hampshire,
Colorado and Michigan. Potentially close races exist in
Minnesota, Oregon and Virginia. Vulnerable GOP seats remain
in Kentucky and Georgia. How these races “break” in the final
days of the 2014 elections will signal whether or not a true “wave”
election is about to happen.

Unless there are more and new gaffes by individual candidates,
the month of September should be relatively quiet politically on
its surface. Most of the undecideds, many of them independents,
will likely make their minds in October as election day approaches.
A second group of pivotal voters, disaffected Democrats, will also
decide whether or not they will vote at all.

This consequential election cycle is not yet over.

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

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