As polls closed and the returns began to flash across the airwaves it looked like a second Republican wave was in the making.
Early on endangered Senate incumbents like Mitch McConnell, Thad Cochran, and Pat Roberts won another term from the voters. Then word came that Thom Tillis had bested Kay Hagan in North Carolina, Joni Ernst won Tim Harkin’s old seat in Iowa, and Cory Gardner had defeated Tom Udall in Colorado. Even the Old Dominion was suddenly in play as Republican Ed Gillespie ran even with Mark Warner.
Republicans also did well in the various contests for governor around the country. Sam Brownback of Kansas, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, and Rick Scott of Florida all won reelection after hard fought campaigns. Even Illinois has a Republican governor elect this morning.
Republicans also picked up a handful of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Democrat Joe Garcia of Florida’s 26th congressional district lost his seat to Republican challenger Carlos Curbelo. Elise Stefanik won in New York’s 21st congressional district and has the distinction of being the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Mia Love will become the first black Republican woman in Congress after her victory yesterday in the 4th congressional district in Utah.
All in all it was a great night. But what does it mean?
First, it suggests that association with president Obama and his policies dragged many Democrats down to defeat. Republicans were able to successfully tie their challengers to our unpopular president. Claims of independent thinking on the part of Democrats rang false when their records made clear that they supported the president’s agenda most of the time.
Second, let it be known that on this, the fourth day of the eleventh month (yes I’m aware it came too early for the analogy to be perfect) the guns have fallen silent and the ‘war on women’ has ended. Two years after tarring Mitt Romney with claims of his leading Republicans in waging war on women the point of diminishing returns has been reached. In Colorado, Tom Udall made his campaign entirely about woman’s issues – read abortion – and earned him the nickname ‘Tom Uterus’. This obsessive focus failed Udall yesterday. In Texas Wendy Davis, who won the Democratic primary for the governor’s race largely because of a pro-abortion filibuster she delivered in the Texas state senate, embarrassed herself by repeatedly reminding the voters that her opponent was confined to a wheelchair. She also repeatedly changed her positions on other issues important to voters in the state.
Democrats are finding that women that were very concerned about abortion rights two years ago now have a different focus. They will try to ride this theme till the wheels fall off but women may eventually notice that Republicans are not coming for their birth control.
Third, the people may have tired of extensive government intervention in the economy. Both Kansas and Wisconsin had Republican governors who were willing to risk being single term governors, not to mention a lot of snark from the media, to put their states on a path to good economic health. Pro economic growth policies like those of Florida Governor Rick Scott are already showing results and were likely a factor in his reelection. These governors know that cutting taxes and reforming the public sector is painful in the short term but necessary for the long run.
The biggest change of this Republican sweep is that in a couple of months the gavel of the Senate Majority Leader will be pried from the hands of Harry Reid. The senior Senator from the state of Nevada has paralyzed the legislative branch. Bills that have been voted on in the House go to the Senate to die. By preventing voting on bills or amendments to bills Senator Reid was trying to accomplish two things. He prevented vulnerable Democrats from having to vote on things like the Keystone pipeline where Democrat constituencies were in conflict. A stalled out Senate also gave president Obama the excuse to govern on his own through executive actions. Our ‘pen and phone’ president has given up working with the Congress and is using administrative processes to get what he wants.
Shifting from a paralyzed legislative branch to truly divided government, where Republicans control the legislature and work with a Democratic president, will be an improvement. Whether the president agrees with the legislation that comes out of Capitol Hill is not relevant. He will have lost the excuse of a do nothing Congress and will have the choice to sign or veto legislation.
Just like in 2010 the people have given Republicans another chance. What happens over the next two years will have an impact, not just on 2016, but far into the future of this country and that of the GOP.