If there is one thing a pundit loves to say, it’s “I told you so,” especially when it’s true. The Republican tsunami in the midterms vindicated my predictions over the previous two weeks – and should teach both the media and the Democrats a couple of very large lessons.
To understand the need for both to learn those lessons, one has only to view the scope of the midterm victory for Republicans. Not only did they win control of the U.S. Senate, they may have won enough seats to see them through what would have been a very difficult 2016 cycle, when the seats won in their first Obama-administration midterm victory will come up for re-election.
The races in Alaska and Louisiana will take a few more weeks to unravel, as Alaska starts processing absentee ballots that are still arriving and Louisiana has to hold a runoff election. Both contests are widely expected to go to the GOP. There is also an outside chance that Ed Gillespie can still pull out a shocking upset in Virginia over incumbent Mark Warner, although Warner has a 12,000-vote edge at the moment, out of more than 2 million cast.
That puts Republicans at either 54 or 55 seats in the Senate. That gives them a decent cushion in the next election, certainly better than a 51- or 52-seat majority would have provided. Last month, electoral analyst Charlie Cook pointed out that the 2016 map would be fought largely on Democrats’ home turf with Republicans in New Hampshire, Illinois, Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Iowa being particularly vulnerable.
Obama won those states in 2012, but this week Republicans won gubernatorial races in Florida, Iowa, Illinois, and Ohio, and also one Senate race in Iowa. With a four or five seat majority, suddenly 2016 doesn’t look as bad for Republicans, and looks more challenging for Democrats.
On top of the Senate, the GOP won a stunning victory in the House of Representatives. Their majority in January will be more than 65 seats, the largest Republican majority in the House since Herbert Hoover. Democrats were expected to gain ground against Republicans in gubernatorial races. Instead, the GOP gained four states, including Obama’s home state of Illinois, and in deep-blue Massachusetts and Maryland, which had elected just one Republican to the office in the past 40 years. Democrats took an historic loss in state legislatures, where the GOP now has total control in almost half of all states.
In short, this may have been one of the most significant midterm elections in history. And yet, the American broadcast news organizations had barely covered them between Labor Day until almost the week before they took place. As I noted two weeks ago, a Media Research Center study showed that the Big Three networks had only mentioned the midterms 25 times during that period, as compared to 159 mentions in the same period before the 2006 midterm sweep for Democrats. Their viewers and readers should demand answers as to why these and other media outlets left them so uninformed about a result that was so easily foreseen for those who managed to find their information elsewhere.
The results of the election also demonstrated the intellectual and political failure of Democratic strategy in the midterm elections, especially on the so-called “war on women.” My column last week predicted that Colorado’s Senate race would be the Waterloo for this particular demagoguery, and the results speak clearly for themselves. Incumbent Democrat Mark Udall got heckled by a major Democratic donor at a campaign stop two days before the election, for obsessing over contraception and abortion. “Who is running the worst campaign? Him,” Leo Beserra later explained, “because [expletive] abortion is all he talks about.”
How well did that work out for Udall? He lost his seat by 80,000 votes to Cory Gardner in an election where fellow Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper managed to eke out a re-election victory by 26,000 votes. Udall ended up winning among women who voted by nine points, but lost men by 16 points – and women only made up 48 percent of the Colorado electorate, their worst showing in 22 years. The “war on women” meme didn’t boost turnout, and in fact may have depressed turnout with its rank paternalism, especially in the infamous “Sweet Pea” ad sponsored by NARAL and funded by climate change activist Tom Steyer.
The war on women backfired on Democratic women running for office, too. In Texas, Wendy Davis’ entire oeuvre revolved around her filibuster against a highly popular late-term abortion ban. Few expected her to compete against Greg Abbott, but no one expected her to lose among women by nine points, 54/45, while losing two-thirds of male voters.
In Kentucky, where Democrats hoped to use the “war on women” strategy against Mitch McConnell to woo women and younger voters, Alison Lundergan Grimes ended up narrowly losing the female vote, 47/50 and in a virtual tie with McConnell among 18-29-year-olds at 48/47. Nationally, women only gave Democrats a five-point edge in midterm voting, far short of the double-digit gender gap they expected.
Both Democrats and the media have lessons to learn from this election cycle, among them to deal honestly with American voters rather than ignore them or flat-out lie to them. Will they learn these lessons over the next two years? We’ll have to see, but if not, I’ll be able to say I told you so again – and I won’t mind doing so at all.
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