The major election fight in 2014 was over control of the United States Senate. Would it be Harry Reid (D-NV) or Mitch McConnell (R-KY) serving as Majority Leader for the next two years? Every seat in the House of Representatives was up as well, with the question being whether the Republicans would expand their majority and if so, by how much?
The Senate results were a disaster for Democratic candidates, and McConnell has finally achieved his long-sought objective to be top dog in the Senate. Many of the top candidates endorsed by Council for a Livable World went down to defeat: Bruce Braley (D-IA), Alison Lundergan Grimes (D-KY), Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC), Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) and Rick Weiland (D-SD).
There were, however, a few bright spots. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) narrowly avoided an upset against former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown. In Michigan, Gary Peters (D) swept to victory. And candidates such as Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), who both barely won six years ago, easily won re-election.
Democrats, who enjoyed a slim 55-45 Senate heading into Election Day, faced an extremely unfavorable environment:
- Traditionally, the party controlling the White House loses seats in the second mid-term election, and 2014 was no exception.
- 21 Democratic Senate seats were up for grabs compared to only 14 for Republicans and seven of the Democratic seats were in states carried by Mitt Romney in 2012, making it treacherous territory for Democrats.
- The election became a referendum on President Obama, who has long lost the glow from his 2012 re-election.
- An ABC News/Washington Post poll taken from October 23-26 found only 42% of Americans approved of President Obama’s job performance, while 56% disapproved.
- An Associated Press/GfK poll completed October 20 showed that 31% of Americans felt the country was on the right track, while 69% felt wrong track.
- In an attempt to mobilize his base to get out to vote, the President did not help Democratic candidates trying to distance themselves from him when he said shortly before the election: “Make no mistake: [my] policies are on the ballot – every single one of them.”
- Republicans successfully avoided nominating unelectable candidates destined to lose general elections, a change from the previous two election cycles.
Democratic support eroded in the last days of the election, and a tidal wave washed away the previous majority.
Foreign affairs played very little role in the campaign. The issues were more a referendum on the President, the shape of the economy, health care, energy and the environment, and women’s issues.
In the final weeks of the campaign, Republicans across the country began airing ads that attempted to link Democrats to the threat of ISIL in Syria and Iraq, terrorists committing mass murder and the spread of the Ebola virus inside the United States. But the ads were in fact exploiting the fear card to question the President’s competence rather than raising actual foreign policy issues.
The degree to which these ads contributed to the final elections results has yet to be determined.
What do we expect of the new Congress? Continuing gridlock and a failure to deal with the nation’s problems such as income inequality, climate change, immigration reform and decrepit infrastructure such as roads and bridges.
The challenges will be even greater with Republicans chairing Senate committees such as Armed Service, Foreign Relations and Appropriations.
However, Republicans will not have a completely free hand to wreak havoc and install a conservative agenda: they lack the 60 votes required to overcome a filibuster (unless the filibuster rules are changed again) and the most definitely will not have 67 votes to overcome a presidential veto. The President’s veto pen will probably get a workout. In his first six years, he only vetoed two measures. That is sure to change.
Fortunately, there are a number of issues on which the President can take action without an affirmative vote in Congress, including a potential nuclear deal with Iran and reducing the numbers and role of nuclear weapons in American security policy. We hope to see renewed attention on these issues as the President attempts to secure his legacy during his final two years in office.