Wednesday, November 04, 2015

5 Thoughts on Yesterday's Elections

Republicans dominated last night, and Democrats headed into 2016 had better start checking themselves cause clearly something is wrong.  Those were my overall thoughts after watching last night's off-off-year elections.  Let's get to the five biggest headlines of the night, and my interpretations of them.

Gov-elect Matt Bevin (R-KY)
1. Democrats Have a Turnout Problem

For all of the ink that has been spilled about President Obama's incredible turnout machine and how the Democrats need to find a way to get voters to the polls when the White House isn't up-for-grabs, they clearly didn't find a solution last night.  Despite leading in the polls, having a Republican candidate who was considered erratic and dominated headlines in the way that few people outside of Donald Trump have done for the past cycle, and having a proven statewide vote-getter, Democrats still lost the Kentucky governor's mansion.  A year after he bucked the Republican establishment in Kentucky by challenging their kingpin to a primary, Matt Bevin became the leader of the state, defeating Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway.  It's hard to tell where the Democrats went wrong here, but this could be an interesting conundrum for the state as Bevin wants to eliminate the Medicaid expansion from the ACA, which may mean 400,000 people will lose their health insurance (it should be noted that while obviously some of those 400k people are children and thus unable to vote, with only 1 million people voting and Conway losing by 90k votes the people who didn't vote who got the Medicaid expansion have zilch to complain about as Conway would have won the election if they'd gotten to the polls).  It's not like the Democrats weren't sinking the occasional baskets in the Bluegrass State, either-Alison Lundergan Grimes and Andy Beshear both emerged victorious in statewide contests.  Conway, who has now lost races for the House, Senate, and governor's mansion throughout his career, is finished in politics, and his loss combined with the Virginia Democrats failing to gain back the State Senate (they couldn't even pick up one seat despite millions being spent to grab one and almost constant victories for the party in the Old Dominion) is a big issue for the Democrats, especially considering...

2. Ballot Initiatives Don't Help Either

...Democrats did horribly in ballot initiatives.  While putting a ballot initiative in an off-off-year election is questionable at best, liberal policies across the country got rejected.  From an LGBT-discrimination bill in Houston to a marijuana-legalization bill in Ohio to a minimum wage measure in Portland, Democrats lost big on the issues across the country.  While it's certain that Democrats would have had a better showing in a presidential election, they can't keep putting all of their eggs in that basket, and it's quite clear that their GOTV efforts have been terrible (Debbie Wasserman Schultz has arguably been the worst DNC Chair in the history of the position, which says something if you know the history of that role).  Like I said yesterday, elections have consequences, and these ordinances, along with yet another opening for how the Republicans can repeal Obamacare in Kentucky (arguably the poster child for a state it worked in) are some of those consequences..

3. Pollsters Have a Bigger Problem

A year after pollsters from across the country vastly screwed up in a number of races (remember Alison Lundergan Grimes being tied with Mitch McConnell before she lost by 16-points), they screwed up royally again, with Conway frequently routing Bevin in polls while he ended up losing pretty handily on election night.  These huge discrepancies in results make the polling industry hold even less power, and puts the entire punditocracy on notice, as there's no real talking points without polls at this point, but you can only get burned by polls so often before you give up on them.  It'll be telling to see what happens in a few weeks in Louisiana, where both the pollsters (who I suspect have a lot of pressure to see David Vitter improve considering conventional wisdom would back up him winning after Bevin did) and the Democrats (who desperately need to prove they can actually win an election when Obama's not on the ballot), two groups scorned today, will have intense pressure to win.

Attorney General Jim Hood (D-MS)
4. The Democratic Silver Lining

No election is a totally lopsided victory for one party, and while the Republicans should certainly get the 'W," the Democrats did make two surprising victories considering the national mood.  One, the lesser of the two, was that Attorney General Jim Hood somehow kept hold of his position in Mississippi despite every other Democrat in the country finding the Deep South impenetrable.  It's questionable whether or not Moore will able to someday translate his position (a typical launcpad to higher office) to a Senate seat or the governor's mansion, but the DNC should be talking to him constantly to figure out pointers on how to win in the South.

The second victory, and definitely a big one, was in Pennsylvania, where Democrats won all three of the open State Supreme Court seats, handing the Democrats a 5-2 majority when previously they were down 4-3.  This is huge due to the potential caseload that is going to be in front of the court in upcoming months, including surrounding the death penalty, natural gas-drilling, and of particular note, redistricting.  Pennsylvania is one of the most unbalanced House delegations in the country compared to how they vote statewide, and considering that a Democratic justice will now cast the tie-breaking votes for redistricting at the state legislative level, this could soon change in a few years when the maps are redrawn again, giving the Democrats a big boost in the House come 2022 (again-you have to look at politics both in the short and long-term).

5. 2016: What Does This Mean

Drawing conclusions on the White House races this cycle is a bad idea-too few people vote, and none of these states save Pennsylvania are particularly swing-y.  There are impacts, though, of course.  Gov. Chris Christie saw his party lose 3-4 seats in the New Jersey assembly, which can't be a headline he'll enjoy seeing, while Sen. Rand Paul perhaps had the best night of any politician not on the ballot as his likely 2016 Senate opponent (State Auditor Adam Edelen) lost reelection, rendering him obsolete for next year's contest.

However, it can't be underscored how much the Democrats need to figure out their crap.  I rag on Debbie Wasserman Schultz a lot, but if you subtract President Obama's victories under her watch, there's really nothing else to recommend her-if she were in charge of any other organization with this kind of track record she would be ousted, and it's quite clear the DNC needs a change in leadership, either from an elected official who isn't tied down by the demands of an office (RT Rybak comes to mind) or, in a better move, someone who is great at electoral strategy (Donna Brazile and Stephanie Schriock are both great options).  Provided Vitter wins as I suspect he will in Louisiana, the Democrats are now down to just seventeen governorships, their lowest number in seventeen years, and 2016 doesn't pose a lot of potential on that front.  Republicans are consistently derided for no longer being a party that can win the White House, but the Republicans' problem with the White House is NOTHING compared to the Democrats' problems with off-cycle elections.

Those are my thoughts-anyone else have an additional two cents?  Overall the Republicans should be smiling, though not to the point where they assume Hillary Clinton was beaten, the Democrats should be doing soul-searching as clearly they learned nothing from 2014, and I'll still get to keep typing the name Alison Lundergan Grimes (whom I feel I end up talking about more than any other human being on this sight, but perhaps that's just because it takes so long to type her name).  Share your thoughts below.

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