Some would tell you that the larger, more diverse electorate that shows up in a Presidential year means Republicans are marching toward disappointment in 2016. Not so. In my new piece at Communities Digital News, I discuss how data-driven campaigning delivered most of the really close races of 2014 to the GOP – and how that sets them up for future success.
Sure, 2014 was a wave election – but that shouldn’t detract from smart Republican campaigns that put themselves in position to take advantage. There’s a difference between riding a wave and surfing.
I sure was pessimistic last week, wasn’t I? After predicting a 49-49 tie in the Senate and losing two of the four key incumbent governors, imagine my surprise when Republicans swept the four gubernatorial elections (while picking up big surprise wins in Illinois and Maryland and a lesser surprise in Massachusetts) and blew well past 51 Senators. In almost all races, Republican candidates outperformed their public poll numbers, which points to really well-run, tactically superior campaigns. That’s one half of what your need to win.
The second half is messaging, and the fact that my third prediction – that minimum wage increases would pass in red states – was right on the money. Sen. Mark Udall’s “War on Women” messaging might not have worked, but you can bet the Democrats’ class of 2016 won’t fumble the issue so poorly as he did, and might find more receptive ears among the younger, single women who come to the ballot box in two years. Throw in climate change, immigration, and taxing the rich, and suddenly Democrats have a suite of winning issues on which to build their next majority.
That’s why the 2016 campaign has to start immediately – and it has to be about issues before it becomes about candidates.
Before the polls close and the sun goes down on another Election Day, some predictions:
The Senate: Control of the U.S. Senate is what everyone’s talking about this year, even if it’s not the most significant slate of races. Republicans will pick up seats in Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Montana, and West Virginia. With a loss in Kansas, Republicans will control 49 seats at the end of the night, with Georgia and Louisiana heading to a runoff. Close losses in several states (especially New Hampshire and North Carolina) will result in a round of “What went wrong for the GOP?” stories tomorrow morning. Georgia’s runoff will be more competitive than most pundits currently expect.
The Big Four Governors: Democrats and Republicans will split the top four gubernatorial re-election contests, with Scott Walker and Rick Snyder holding on in Wisconsin and Michigan, respectively, and Rick Scott and Sam Brownback losing in Florida and Kansas. It will be a bad night for Kansas Republicans.
The Aftermath. Minimum wage referenda – which have slipped under the radar – will be successful in several Republican states. On the back of this, Democrats will push for similar measures in expected 2016 swing states to help Democrat turnout.
Rasmussen tells us three out of five voters believe there will be a GOP Senate, and belief in inevitability can be powerful. So how do we judge how well the parties actually do? Thankfully, sports gambling concepts can help. Isn’t it great that two of America’s finest traditions, illegal gambling and politics, go so well together?
The actual spread: 5 1/2 seats. Because Republicans have been so bad at tamping down expectations, the basic spread for the Senate will be 5 1/2. If the Republican gains are higher than that (six seats or more) it means Senate control; any fewer means the story on Wednesday morning is that the Republicans are limping out of the midterms once again foiled by a changing demographic.
What the spread ought to be: 8 1/2 seats. Better messaging and more advanced voter identification, starting in 2013, would have created a foundation for the party to take much better advantage of the wave of unrest the electorate has. An unending series of scandals and screw-ups from the White House gave the GOP and the broader conservative movement the platform they needed to articulate a better vision for a smaller, more competent government.
And make no mistake: The lower spread is more an indictment of a broader conservative movement content with winning ankle-hurdle victories in red states and not nearly aggressive enough in expanding the base of people receptive to such messages. It’s tough for Republicans to win the battle of the ballot box in places where no one is fighting the battle of ideas.
Cosmo – the magazine which proves that reading doesn’t have to expand your mind – endorsed candidate John Foust for Congress in Virginia’s 10th district. Foust, of course, is known for pooh-poohing his opponent’s experience, while using his government office building to film his campaign ads.
Stu Rothenberg has joined the chorus of prognosticators predicting Republicans will win the Senate majority in November. In many ways, that’s irrelevant because of three incumbent governors. Polls show tight races for Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Rick Scott in Florida, and Rick Snyder in Michigan; Sam Brownback in Kansas isn’t blowing the doors off his challenger, either.
The importance of these seats goes beyond the fact that the states tend to be close in Presidential years; in his own way, each of the four governors has enacted reforms that make a real-world case for conservative policies. The mantra that “Republicans have to be FOR something!” is tired but very true. Each of these incumbents has enacted policies that have improved their respective states. Losses in any one state could wash away years of real progress, and it might make Republicans in other states suddenly reticent to push a reform agenda.
There are other conservative reformers out there who either aren’t up for reelection this year or who don’t have a serious opponent. These tight races will be a good electoral test for policies which have, so far, been effective. That means even more to the Republican Party than who runs the Senate in 2015.
(In the interest of disclosure, the firm I work for has done work for Walker, Scott, and Snyder and for party committees in the respective states – but as should be patently obvious, no inside information was used in linking to those publicly available polls.)