IVN News

5 Things About the 2014 Midterms You Likely Missed

Republicans swept the 2014 midterm elections on Tuesday, capturing the Senate and delivering a stinging defeat to Democrats that will likely define the next two years.

If the 2010 midterms were a “shellacking,” as President Barack Obama famously called it, the 2014 midterms were probably more comparable to an alleyway beating. Republicans not only won the out-of-reach Senate with 52 seats by Wednesday, but also entrenched their formidable 244-member House majority and picked up three more governorships.

For voters who hear their news first from television – a share of the public the American Journalism Institute put at around 87 percent this year – the biggest issues that decided this election may have included Ebola and ISIS, a general dislike of the president in his sixth year, or the economy, even as it added a healthy 248,000 new jobs in September.

But there was more to the Republican victory on Tuesday, and ratings-driven news outlets may not be sharing the full story on how the GOP pocketed their biggest victory since World War II.

This year’s Republican sweep isn’t unprecedented or unexpected. Most on the left actually saw some of it coming, with even Obama telling a Connecticut NPR affiliate that the climate for Democrats was “the worst” for his party since Eisenhower.

Experts agree that American politics is not only increasingly partisan, but also cyclical and increasingly predictable, too. Parties with presidents in power have typically lost seats in Congress since Reconstruction — first in 1874, when Republican Ulysses S. Grant saw Democrats take the House, and more recently in 2006, when George W. Bush lost the House and Senate.

But non-presidential midterm elections are also notorious for keeping voters for the party in power at home, too.

For example, one precinct in Prince George’s County — a reliably blue county in Maryland, where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans — saw just a fourth of its eligible 2,200 voters turn out on Tuesday.

U.S. elections continue to break fundraising records, and this year was no different. All told, the two parties drummed up more than $2.1 billion for the combined 1,665 candidates who ran in House and Senate elections over this election cycle, according to OpenSecrets.org.

One industry in particular gave a lot of money to both major parties, and the committee lawmakers who serve to regulate the industry were big winners.

Of more than $182.9 million, the 61 lawmakers — both Democrats and Republicans — who sit on the House Financial Services Committee raked in more than a fourth of their overall combined campaign war chests from financial services, real estate, and insurance companies. House Republicans on the committee netted a little more than their Democratic colleagues, but the latter members also represent a smaller share of the committee.

Observers largely dismissed the House elections this fall as a giveaway for Republicans, with the Senate and governorships the real prize on Election Day.

One reason why is that most congressional districts are now uncompetitive and solidly for one party or the other, thanks to state-level partisan redistricting measures.

According to the Washington Post, just 30 of the 435 House seats up for grabs — or roughly 6.8 percent of the lower chamber — were legitimately competitive this year. That left 405 other races nationwide that favored incumbents and frontrunners with a 90-percent chance of easy victory.

For comparison, the Post found that the Cook Political Report and Rothenberg Political Report fixed House competitiveness at 9.8 percent and 11.7 percent, respectively.

Experts say that will only get worse as partisan state legislatures, now majority-controlled by Republicans, continue transferring voters and rearranging districts to stay in control. Those arrangements can have direct implications for House elections, with one professor writing in the New York Times that his own simulations showed Republicans held onto 14 more seats after the 2012 election than they would have without gerrymandering.

“Gerrymandering seems like a very straightforward distortion of the [electoral] process,” Barry Burden, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin, said in a previous interview for IVN.

The Grand Ol’ Party has been at the center of criticism for some years now over what is seen as its largely white and older base and leadership.

Despite the stereotype of being a party of old, white men, some of the Republican Party’s biggest election results came from new, nonwhite members.
Look no further than Slate, which ran an op-ed titled, “Revenge of the White Male Voter,” after an NBC News poll found that 57 percent of voting men — just less than half of the electorate this year — cast their ballots for Republicans.

But some of the Republican Party’s biggest election results came from new, nonwhite members.

The Charleston Post and Courier reported newly minted Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) making history as the first black man elected to the Senate in the South since Reconstruction. In Utah, Mia Love, whose formal name is Ludmya Bourdeau, will be the first black Republican woman and first Haitian-American sent to Congress.

Bennie Womeck, a 44-year-old black police officer and Georgia transplant in Maryland, was one of the registered Republican voters who cast his ballot for Gov.-elect Larry Hogan (R-Md.), one of the bigger upsets on Tuesday that also denied Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D-Md.) the chance to become the state’s first black governor.

“Hopefully, [Hogan will] make differences in the state, and hopefully — with my vote — it’ll happen,” Womeck said in an interview for IVN outside his Maryland precinct on Tuesday.

Jobs, foreign crises, and the economy may have helped shape Tuesday’s elections results, but lawmakers eager to stay in office and the mainstream media sidestepped issues that were big this year and which voters will likely see again sometime soon.

It’s probably true that the crisis with the minors shut up the broader appetite for immigration reform
Jayesh Rathod, American University professor
Of all the issues that impacted polls this year, the immigration crisis probably made public figures the most nervous, as unaccompanied kids and families surged to U.S. borders, fleeing violence and poverty in Central America.

Federal officials returned more than 45,000 underage children in their custody to parents and relatives across the United States by September, with most resettling in the Mid-Atlantic region, followed by Texas, California, and New York.

But lawmakers on both sides were silent. Despite seeing protests and arrests outside the White House in August, Obama told media outlets he’d hold off on an executive decision on immigration until next year.

“It’s probably true that the crisis with the minors shut up the broader appetite for immigration reform,” said Jayesh Rathod, a law professor at American University and director of the school’s Immigrant Justice Clinic, citing media narratives different outlets deployed about the children.

Other sources shared with IVN that the immigration debate fell off the radar because the Mexican government is reportedly deporting more, but also that social services agencies expect the migration waves to pick up again next year.

Photo Credit: Alexandr Junek Imaging s.r.o. / shutterstock.com