Republicans Gain Control of U.S. Senate

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Republicans Gain Control of U.S. Senate
| published November 5, 2014 |

By R. Alan Clanton
Thursday Review editor

Seizing upon President Barack Obama’s low approval ratings, Republicans seized control of the U.S. Senate and solidified their advantages in the U.S. House on Tuesday. Though millions of voters across the country have expressed deep dissatisfaction with the inability of either major party to get things done in Washington, many sent a message to Democrats that their unhappiness with the President is contagious.

Republicans also made a few gains in governorships nationwide, and scored favorable outcomes in many state and local elections.

Though many races—especially in the Senate—were widely expected by the pollsters and number crunchers to be too-close-to-call, some turned out to be lopsided. Anti-incumbent moods were expected to rule the day, but several high profile incumbents won in landslides despite the hostility toward Washington—most notably GOP leader Mitch McConnell, who easily defeated his opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes, in Kentucky. Democrats and Republicans alike admitted that McConnell’s big win over Grimes was one of the biggest surprises of the night. McConnell will now become Senate majority leader.

In South Carolina, Republican Tim Scott beat Democrat Joyce Dickerson. Scott becomes the first African-American elected to the Senate in the South since Reconstruction, and the first black person in U.S. history ever elected to both the House—in which he had previously served—and the Senate.

In Colorado, incumbent Mark Udall, arguably one of the most liberal of the Democrats running in 2014, lost to Republican challenger Cory Gardner in a race closely watched by strategists of both parties for its bell-weather potential for 2016.

And in one of the closest races on the map, Republican challenger Thom Tillis, speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, ousted incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan. The Tarheel State was still too close to call late on Tuesday, and analysts were watching closely the results trickling in from Mecklenburg, County. In the end, Tillis’ lead was gathering momentum.

The GOP also succeeded in toppling Democrats in key states not prone to reward Republicans, ever, including in West Virginia, where Republican Shelley Moore Capito defeated Democrat Natalie Tennant for the Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Jay Rockefeller. And in Montana, Republican Steve Daines easily toppled Democrat Amanda Curtis in a lopsided win which many analysts had expected to be much closer.

Even in Iowa, a closely-watched state for its important value in the 2016 primary and caucus votes, Republicans were triumphant. Republican Joni Ernst, one of the most conservative candidates on the national map, easily defeated Democrat Bruce Bailey and Independent Rick Stewart to become the next Senator from Iowa.

Another surprise unfolded in Georgia, where Republican David Perdue was able to successfully battle a strong, well-funded campaign by Democrat Michelle Nunn for control of the seat being vacated by Republican Saxby Chambliss. Democrats had hoped for a victory in Georgia, where they sought to make inroads in what has been a traditionally red state for more than two decades.

On the whole, Republicans gained control of the U.S. Senate, and consolidated their control of the U.S. House. Analysts for both Democrats and Republicans suggest that inside the White House this week, strategists will be seeking to find a way to work more closely with Republicans. Though one of the key narratives of the last month has been Obama’s sagging poll numbers, and how that might affect the outcome of the 2014 elections, pre-election polls and exit polls show that many Americans still support the position of the President on issues ranging from immigration to foreign policy to health care. But carefully crafted polls also indicated a deep dissatisfaction with the President’s handling of certain issues, as well as his overall job performance—and most voters were in agreement that both political parties are to blame for the gridlock in Washington.

This paradox led many analysts to predict mixed results in Tuesday’s elections. Still, the GOP was celebrating is gains across the map, and on the whole defining the election as a referendum on the President’s performance. Democrats, seeking to put the best face on a stinging defeat, said that the election was instead a referendum on politics-as-usual, and a signal that voters want to see both parties working together for solutions.

Many Democratic candidates had shunned President Obama, preferring instead to decouple their positions from those of the White House. Obama had, on the whole, stayed away from campaigning alongside dozens of Democrats in key states. Instead, looking to 2016, several leading Democrats enlisted the support of either Hillary Clinton or Bill Clinton, or both. But the Clinton brand name offered little impact in the end, as some exit polls indicated that the Clintons did not factor into the decisions of many voters—this despite the increasing popularity of presumed-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Though not yet officially a candidate for President, Clinton is widely seen as the de facto front-runner for the Democratic nomination.

McConnell’s win, which was announced early in the evening by the major networks, served as an indicator that the night might not go well for Democrats. As races which were expected to be close unfolded as blowouts—or at least as comfortable wins—it looked like the GOP would succeed in its long-term goal of taking command of the U.S. Senate. Republican gains in the House were strong enough to give the GOP a numerical advantage not seen in decades, and a net gain of 13 seats (some races were still undecided as of early Wednesday morning) would give the Republican party its biggest majority since 1946.

GOP leaders immediately began talk of what the next session of Congress might include as its crucial business: re-evaluation of the Keystone pipeline project, which was killed by the President 18 months ago; expansion of domestic energy programs; new, business-friendly jobs initiatives; and resistance to future Obama appointees to the Federal courts.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Udall Against All?; John T. Herndon; Thursday Review; November 2, 2014.

Will Turnout Make the Big Difference on Tuesday?; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; November 3, 2014.