The red wave of Republicans projected to win the midterm elections rose as predicted after the first polls closed on the East coast and hour-by-hour rolled westward across the United States, marking a dramatic change in the balance of power in Congress. As CNN reported, although the Republicans fell short of taking over the Senate, which could prove extremely problematic for getting any kind of legislation passed through Congress in the next two years, Republicans won an overwhelming majority of the seats in the House of Representatives, proving more than ever the old adage that “politics is local.”
As Scott Rasmussen of Rasmussen Reports pointed out in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal prior to the election, though, the change was expected and foreseen and is part of what has become a cyclical shift, more tidal than wave-like, powered by an electorate grown dissatisfied with the elected. So what insights did the midterm elections provide?
Alaska: Lisa Murkowski defeats Joe Miller; the ‘refudiation’ of Sarah Palin
Not only was Lisa Murkowski’s opponent, Joe Miller, backed by former Alaska governor Sarah Palin but it is important to note that Murkowski and Palin have never quite seen eye-to-eye, albeit both represent the same political party. But Joe Miller went down to a resounding defeat in Alaska, pulling in only 34 percent of the vote to Murkowski’s 41 percent (76% of the vote by post time).
Miller had led in the polls going in to the election (except in one Republican poll, which showed Murkowski with a 10-point lead, and a CNN/Time poll that showed a tie) but had been losing ground after a series of speech gaffes and a highly publicized run-in and detention of a member of the media by Miller’s private security. The win by Murkowski (as a write-in candidate, no less), who was surprisingly defeated by the relatively unknown Tea Party-backed Miller in the Alaska Republican Primary, was not so much a rejection of Tea Party policies but a direct “refudiation” of the politics of Sarah Palin in her own back yard.
Nevada: Harry Reid defeats Sharron Angle; the rejection of Tea Party extremism
The fight for the U. S. Senate seat in Nevada was a long and difficult one for incumbent Democratic candidate and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the outcome was anything but certain before Election Day. Tied or trailing in the polls for much of the campaign, Reid won the midterm election by 5 percent of the vote (99 percent reporting). Reid’s victory, along with Barbara Boxer’s (D-CA) and a couple other Democratic wins helped the Democrats keep control of the Senate (and Harry Reid his job as Senate Majority Leader).
Sharron Angle had run a divisive and extremely controversial campaign, complete with race-baiting ads, spurious claims of the Muslim takeover of American cities, and accusations that Reid and his “cronies” were “stealing” the election. Angle became the poster child of Tea Party extremism, calling for the elimination of the Department of Education and the privatization of Social Security and pushing a racially tinged anti-illegal immigration platform that eventually backfired, even in the very conservative state of Nevada.
Florida: Marco Rubio defeats Charlie Crist; the Tea Party exhibition of strength
The Democratic nominee for the Florida Senate seat, Kendrick Meek, never really stood a chance in Florida, but Governor Charlie Crist did. However, Tea Party conservatives backed former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio in the Florida Republican Primary, forcing Crist to run as an Independent. Regardless, Rubio received a staggering 49 percent of the vote, defeating Crist by 19 percent (with 90 percent of the vote reported). Unlike Delaware and Nevada, where Tea Party candidates were seen to be more extreme, Marco Rubio reflected core conservative values that gelled with Tea Party tenets and represented an emerging important demographic — young Hispanic voters.
Illinois: Obama’s old Senate seat taken by a Republican; a referendum of dissatisfaction
No political machine in the U. S. is more famous than that of the Chicago Democrats, so, even as the tides shifted to red in many Congressional campaigns, Democrats still had hopes of clinging to the Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama. Yet, in what might be the most telling as a sign of voter dissatisfaction with the President and his policies than any other single political race, a Republican, Mark Kirk, defeated the Democratic candidate, Alexi Giannoulias, by a 48 to 46 percent margin (with 93 percent of voting tabulated).
Illinois: In 11th District, Adam Kinzinger takes House seat from Democratic incumbent as part of power shift
In President Obama’s home state of Illinois, the loss of the 11th District House of Representatives seat to a Republican can be seen as indicative of the voting sentiment felt throughout most of the country and reflected in the overwhelming support shown for conservatives. Adam Kinzinger defeated Democratic incumbent Debbie Halvorson by a 57-43 margin in a district that is seen as politically moderate. Halvorson, a freshman Congressperson elected in the “change” wave of 2008, saw her unpopular stances of voting with the majority Democrats rewarded with the electorate in her district voting for yet another change in 2010. Her loss was just one of hundreds of seats lost by incumbents (and not just Democrats, but Republicans replaced by other Republicans) throughout the county, marking a complete shift in control of the House of Representatives for the next two years.
Although some are arguing that the 2010 midterm elections were not a referendum on President Barack Obama and his liberal policies, noting that Election Day saw the largest number of elected seats change hands since 1948 and that one of those Congressional seats that went to a Republican was the old seat held once by Barack Obama, it is difficult to find traction for the position. What it means for the U. S. Congress is nearly certain legislative gridlock.
With a Republican controlled House of Representatives (and a new Speaker of the House in Ohio’s John Boehner) pushing most of the new bills and a Democratic controlled Senate to make certain that those bills do not get a two-thirds majority vote or get tabled or lost in committee, there is likely to be less done in Congress in the next two years than in many decades past.
However, it could prove the perfect setting for bipartisan cooperation, something that both political parties continually pay lip service to but rarely ever engage in. The midterms also spelled out two things of which both Republicans and Democrats should take note: the Tea Party, when not shown as overly extremist, is a political force to be reckoned with, and the American electorate are getting very effective at replacing elected officials that are seen as not working for their constituents.