Part II: Democratic Politics: The American Midterm Senate Elections  

On the evening of the election, I watched CNN and fell asleep once it seemed like the Democrats had lost the senate races in Florida and in Texas and the governorships in Florida and Georgia. I was depressed, even though the Democrats were on the verge of winning the House of Representatives by a comfortable margin. When I awoke early yesterday morning to write yesterday’s blog, I flitted back and forth between my computer and the TV. I sent out my depiction of a grass roots nomination meeting to indicate that the key to winning elections is not ideas (my field of engagement), but the process on the ground. Given that conclusion, below are my preliminary observations on the American midterm elections, in particular in this blog, on ten Senate races that seems to offer some confirmation of that thesis.

435 seats in the House of Representatives, 35 of 100 seats in the Senate, and 39 governorships in 36 states and three US territories were up for election. I tried to follow 10 senate races, 5 in which Democrats might upset Republicans and 5 in which Republicans were expected to prevail. These included (incumbents are marked with an asterisk.):

Arizona – Martha McSally (R 49.4%) beat (?) Krysten Sinema (D 48.4%) [As of the original date of publication on wordpress, their positions reversed and Synema led McSally; at the time McSally conceded, when 92% of the votes had been counted, the results were: Sinema 49.6% McSally 48.1%.]

Florida – Rick Scott (R 50.1%) appeared to beat Bill Nelson* (D 49.8%) [Under recount]

Indiana – Mike Braun (R 52.9%) won over Joe Donnelly* (D 43.2%); [results as of 14.11.2018 51.7% vs 44.1%]

Mississippi – Cindy Hyde-Smith (R); Mike Espy (D) – runoff 27 Nov.

Montana – Matt Rosendale (R 48.9%) I thought beat Jon Tester* (D 48.2%), but Joe Tester eventually won 50.2% to 46.9%.

*Nevada – Dean Heller (R 45.4%) lost to Jacky Rosen (D 50.3%)

North Dakota – Kevin Cramer (R 55.4%) beat Heid Heitkamp* (D 44.5%)

Tennessee – Marsha Blackburn (R 54.7%) beat Phil Bredesen (D 43.8%)

Texas – Ted Cruz* (R 50.9%) beat Beto O’Rourke (D 48.2%)

West Virginia – Patrick Morrisey (R 46.2%) lost to Joe Manchin* (D 49.5%)

Democrats won only two of the five seats they hoped to take. Why?

Jeff Flake who retired as a Senator, was an anti-Trump Republican who chose not to run again. Given the absence of an incumbent, the Democrats thought they had a reasonable prospect of taking the seat. In the polling leading up to the election, Sinema was sometimes in the lead by a few points, but generally McSally led. It was clearly going to be a tight race. At the time of writing, there was still no declared winner, but it appeared that evening that McSally won by a very narrow margin. In subsequent days, the positions reversed and McSally eventually conceded.

In Arizona, a key component of the Republican victory was the third-party candidacy of appropriately named, Angela Green, who got 2.24% of the vote (38,978) that would have put Krysten Sinema (830,775) ahead of Martha McSally (856,848). But Maricopa, which includes Phoenix, had still not announced its voting results. However, since most voting was by mail, as the ballots rolled in, Sinema eventually won. Arizona has a history of supporting strong independent voices, both moderate and far from moderate. Arizona was the home of John McCain as well as Jeff Flake.

McSally had only a 6% score on the National Environmental Scorecard. She introduced anti-environmental bills, prioritized the initiatives of power companies and voted to slash EPA funding, whereas Sinema was a strong environmentalist. McSally was a strong supporter of Kavanaugh while Sinema was a belated critic. Other than the existence of a third party candidate on the ballot, major factor that McSally had as strong a showing as she did may have been Trump’s rousing of his base and getting them out to vote in sufficient numbers to offset Sinema’s leading edge in the growing new suburbs of Arizona, especially among women. The fear of foreigners and immigrants may have played a significant role in boosting McSally’s support.

In another very close Senate race in Florida, the margin of apparent victory for Scott over the Democratic incumbent was very slim and meant a recount since the difference between the two candidates was less than .5%; as subsequent ballots rolled in, the difference narrowed even further.) Even though the difference had narrowed to less than 13,000 vote at the time of these amendments to the blog, Scott appears headed for victory even though polls showed that Nelson would win. What happened?

If you look at the House of Representative seats, there was relatively little change. Democratic seats re-elected Democrats; Republican seats went Republican. But the changes are telling. Donna Shalala, a Democrat, even though she ran a poor campaign, defeated Maria Elvira Salazar in a previously Republican seat in the 27th congressional district. Shahala was one of two Muslim women elected to the House of Representatives for the first time.

Shahala was a former president at the University of Miami and a Cabinet secretary under President Bill Clinton. Her Republican opponent was a Cuban American. It would appear that the antipathy of educated suburban women trumped Cuban ethnic identification, perhaps in part because of Trump’s denigration of Latinos. The anti-Islamic and anti-Latino Trump voice helped a Republican lose. Further, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell beat GOP incumbent Carlos Cubelo who, as a moderate Republican, refused to run as an acolyte of Trump.

Why did the Democratic incumbent possibly lose in the Senate race? Turnout. Getting supporters to the polls. In Broward County, a Democratic stronghold, though turnout went up from 44.5% to 57.4%, it did not compare to the 62.1% turnout statewide. Trump stumping in Florida on a platform of a politics of fear evidently helped bring Republican base support to the polls, especially since both Bill Nelson and Andrew Gillum (running for Governor) ran on a fear-of-Trump platform. It seemed not enough to bring out their supporters in sufficient numbers. The politics of fear seems to work for Republicans but not for Democrats.

One more item needs to be mentioned. The referendum to allow 1.5 million former felons to vote in Florida was victorious. Most are Black and expected to vote Democrat in large numbers if they reach the voting booth. Prospects for Democrats in the future look terrific if Democrats continue the battle against voter suppression and gerrymandering.

The third-party candidate in Indiana took 4% of the vote, but that would have been insufficient to put Joe Donnelly ahead of Mike Braun. This was a seat that Republicans flipped. As usual, districts with minorities and with more educated citizens favoured Democrats while those with an older population favoured Republicans. The two candidates had been polling neck and neck. How and why did Braun move ahead with such a relatively large margin?

Indiana overall is a red state. Donnelly was a right of centre Democrat, but opposed Obamacare repeal, the Republican tax law and Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. Republicans turned out in droves as Trump aroused his base. Trump, in comparison to the rest of the country, has an approval rating in Indiana of 50% and ran 20 points ahead of Hillary in the 2016 election. The reality is that Connelly was only there because the Republican candidate in 2016 was a jerk who insisted that if a raped woman became pregnant, that was God’s will; there should be no abortion.

Mississippi is a deep red state. Nevertheless, Mike Espy forced a runoff election later this month. State Senator Chris McDaniel, a dissident Republican, was the spoiler who came in third and took 16.4% of the vote. Cindy Hyde-Smith had only been appointed earlier this year to replace the ailing sitting Republican senator. She is a Trumpite and opposes abortion, opposes the refugees heading north and is a strong opponent of gun control. It is almost certain she will win, especially since her co-Republican in the senate, Roger Wicker, easily defeated his Democratic opponent, David Baria.

Montana was another very close race in which a third party candidate, Rick  Breckenridge, took 2.9% of the vote. However, in this case, he is a Libertarian so the vote would most likely have increased the Republican vote if he had withdrawn. Further, it is a state that backed Trump by 20 points in 2016. However, the state also has a record of electing Democratic senators. And Jon Tester was the right candidate to try. A farmer and populist running against a state auditor, Tester also had the advantage of incumbency. The polls showed him winning, though by a small margin. Trump’s appeal made the race close; he went to the state four times with his usual pitch. His base turned out in droves, but that was insufficient to beat Tester..

In Nevada, a Democrat, Jacky Rosen beat the Republican, Dean Heller, 50.3% to 45.4%. Democrats also won the governorship. As was the case across the country, minorities, the better educated and especially educated women, supported Democrats. On the electoral map, however, the vast swath of the state is red. However, in both the lower right and left hands of the state, Las Vegas and Reno, where the bulk of the population live, the state has moved into the Democratic camp.

In North Dakota, Republican challenger, former member of the House of Representatives and a strong Trump supporter, Kevin Cramer triumphed over Heidi Heitkamp. North Dakota is a very red state and should not have been viewed as very competitive for the Democrats even though Heidi Heitkamp was the incumbent. She sided with Trump on a number of issues, not because she came across as an independent voice like Joe Manchin, but seemed to take her stand as a matter of political expediency. The effect – she could not bring out her natural base in droves and she looked like a wimp beside a very strong Trump acolyte who echoed Trump’s anti-immigrant stance.

There was another important factor standing in the way of Heidi’s re-election – voter suppression. North Dakota had a new state voter law requiring precise identification – something which undermined the Native American vote in particular and more than offset Cramer’s gaffes about women speaking in public about sexual assaults against them. Polls showed that Cramer led by a wide margin entering the election.

Marsha Blackburn (R 54.7%) ran a fiery campaign as a Trump Republican in Tennessee to beat Phil Bredesen (D 43.8%). She won 92 of Tennessee’s 95 counties. It was a sweep. It helped that she was a woman. It helped that she was a Trump supporter. This offered further proof that Trump retains a strong base that, when galvanized, influences election results. A moderate Republican would not have done so well.

Texas, on the other hand, was a close race. For months on the campaign trail, Ted Cruz, a top Republican incumbent in a state where not one Democrat holds a statewide office, seemed to be in real danger of losing. He fell far behind O’Rourke in raising funds – $40 million, compared with $70 million by O’Rourke. In this race, O’Rourke was the fiery outsider coming from the El Paso relatively remote south-west of the state. He had terrific crowds and rallies. In Austin, Willie Nelson helped draw a crowd of 50,000. Even Trump drew only 19,000.

Cruz fought back by adopting Trump’s hyperbolic misstatements, characterizing O’Rourke as a dangerous Bernie Saunders liberal who would allow immigrants to flow freely across the border. He eventually overcame the view that he was still an anti-Trump Republican, even though he had sold out to Trump a long time ago. Thus, while O’Rourke led most of the evening with huge support from the suburbs of the large cities in Texas, the voters in the numerous red GOP strongholds across the state in the more rural areas came out to vote and put Cruz over the top.

Finally, in West Virginia, Joe Manchin, a Democrat. beat Patrick Morrisey by three points in an otherwise close race. He is often portrayed as a Trump Democrat because he supported the tax bill and the confirmation of Kavanaugh. But he opposed Trump on Obamacare and came across as his own man beholden to neither the Washington Democrats or Republicans. West Virginia may be a red state, but it appears to be a red state that wants its representatives to have the backs of the little guy whatever his party stripes.

Many have argued that this was an election over value, over ideas and ideals. In the election race, did the Democrats choose hope over fear? No. They largely chose fear of Trump over both fear of immigrants and idealistic visions and soft talk. And in the battle of fear-mongering, they were able to bring out their base among minorities, among youth and among educated suburban women. Though the election was a war over very different visions for America, the real war took place on the ground and in the process of getting troops into battle and having candidates who could do so.

By and large, the Democrats did opt for civility versus rudeness and crudeness in politics, but did they choose to go high when the Trump’s GOP went low? No. They opted for politeness because they could not win a battle where the other side already had a monopoly on boundaryless speech.

They did not choose equality over racism, but intergroup coalitions (not the same as the principle of the equality of individuals). They opposed minority and female denigration and boosting white ethnic nationalism. Upholding human rights was just one tool to accomplish that. If Democrats had fought on the grounds of equality and non-discrimination, they would have done worse than they did. They fought for on-the-ground issues – e.g Medicaid, insurance for those with pre-existing conditions.

[After a break for some other issues, I will return to the midterm elections and dicscuss the voting for governors.]

With the help of Alex Zisman

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