The Democrats’ Senate problem.Apr 14, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 29 • By JAY COST
What do Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia have in common? For one, none has a city larger than 400,000 people. For another, they all voted for John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012. For yet another, they are the most likely places for Republicans to pick up Senate seats, thus taking control of the upper chamber, in 2014.
These three facts are related.
Much ink has been spilled about the “coalition of the ascendant” that the Democrats have formed, which essentially consists of young professionals, nonwhite voters, and gentry liberals. The claim is that this coalition will make it well-nigh impossible for the Republican party ever to win the White House again.
Perhaps, but this Democratic coalition will struggle mightily to keep control of the Senate, let alone wield a working, liberal majority ever again. That’s because the Democrats, with this new coalition, have left behind the rural voters who used to be the party’s bread and butter.
For generations, the Democratic party was built on an alliance between rural and urban voters. It was often uneasy. At 1924’s Democratic National Convention, for instance, the two factions bickered over Prohibition and took more than 100 ballots to settle on a nominee. Even so, successful Democratic candidates from Woodrow Wilson to Bill Clinton found various ways to unite the blocs. Wilson, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and Clinton all were born in the South, Harry Truman came from a border state and could speak with a distinctive Southern twang, and Franklin Roosevelt had personal ties to the region. Barack Obama, on the other hand, relied more heavily than ever on the urban vote for victory in 2008 and 2012, making his coalition notably different from those that came before it.
This strategy can work on a presidential level—assuming Democrats can sustain turnout and support at the lofty heights that Obama enjoyed—but it is a problem in Congress, especially the Senate, where rural states play a uniquely strong role. This gives the Republican party a structural advantage in the battle for majority control. When he won the popular vote by just two points in 2004, George W. Bush carried 31 states, amounting to 62 Senate seats. Though he lost the popular vote by four points in 2012, Mitt Romney still carried 24 states, amounting to 48 Senate seats. The road to the White House might now run through Las Vegas, Nev., and Denver, Colo., but the road to a Senate majority still runs through Pierre, S.D., and Charleston, W.Va.
So why has the Democratic party managed to control the Senate for the last three election cycles? There are two reasons. The first is Republican incompetence. States with large rural populations, no overwhelmingly large cities, and conservative suburbs are prime targets for the GOP, but bad Republican candidates forced unnecessary losses dating back to 2006 in Alaska, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, and North Dakota. Second, and related, is the capacity of Democrats in these states to carve out identities independent of the national party, to emphasize the old rural (some would say “Jacksonian”) strands that still exist on the sub-national level.
In 2014, neither of these reasons appears to be much of a factor. Republicans seem to be attracting better-quality recruits than they have had in previous cycles. There will be no Todd Akin-style gaffes coming from Tom Cotton in Arkansas or Bill Cassidy in Louisiana.
Second, Obama has rebranded the Democratic party as heavily partial to the values and interests of urban voters. Arkansas Democrat Marion Berry recounted in 2010 that Obama assured him that the big difference between the upcoming midterms and 1994 was “You’ve got me.” He was correct, but not in the way he meant to imply: The GOP swept the field in the House elections that year, doing particularly well in the rural districts of the South and Midwest. Something similar is set to happen in the Senate, as a huge swath of Democrats from rural, red states will pay the price for consistently supporting Obama’s agenda.
This is often the way coalitions evolve: Change starts at the top and works its way down, slowly but surely. For a time, the local politicians left stranded by a national rebranding can last on their own, carving out independent identities and relying on the incompetence of the competition. But, sooner or later, the party’s national reputation seeps through, and the other side figures out how to run a decent campaign. This is why, though the Republicanization of the South started in earnest on the presidential level in 1952, the GOP did not win a majority of Southern House seats until 1994. Since then, the Democrats have never reclaimed that Southern majority.
9:07 AM, Feb 12, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
A new poll of likely Alaska voters finds incumbent Democratic senator Mark Begich leading a potential Republican challenger by 12 points with the inclusion of an independent candidate. Begich, who was first elected in 2008 over scandal-plagued Republican Ted Stevens, has 45 percent support in the Hayes poll, while one Republican candidate, former attorney general Dan Sullivan, gets 33 percent.
2:33 PM, Oct 24, 2013 • By MICHAEL WARREN
Senator Kay Hagan, a Democrat from North Carolina who is up for reelection in 2014, says she supports delaying the deadline for signing up for health insurance under Obamacare's individual mandate. Hagan, who voted for Obamacare back in 2010, also says the fine for not signing up for health insurance should be waived.
12:48 PM, Oct 15, 2013 • By MICHAEL WARREN
Not a single citizen of the state of Alaska have signed up for the Obamacare exchange. The Associated Press reports that Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, has written a letter to Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius about the problems with the health insurance exchanges set up by the federal government:
9:37 AM, Oct 15, 2013 • By MICHAEL WARREN
New polls of likely voters in three key states in next year's U.S. Senate election show Republicans running just behind incumbent Democrats. Harper Polling, a firm associated with Republicans and working on behalf of conservative super PAC American Crossroads, conducted surveys of likely voters in Alaska, Arkansas, and Louisiana, where those state's Democratic senators face reelection in 2014 (via Politico). In each of those races, most of the potential Republican challengers poll within single digits of the Democrat.
8:03 AM, Sep 12, 2013 • By MICHAEL WARREN
Alaska's lieutenant governor Mead Treadwell, a Republican, has officially entered the U.S. Senate race in 2014 to challenge incumbent Democrat Mark Begich. The Associated Press reports:
Treadwell, who announced his intention to run in June, has events planned for Anchorage and Fairbanks on Thursday.
3:37 PM, Dec 17, 2012 • By DANIEL HALPER
Senator Mark Begich, a Democrat from Alaska, is "pleased" to include more than $200 million in pork spending in the Sandy legislation, a bill meant to help those affected by Hurricane Sandy.
The senator's office explains the request in a press release:
1:28 PM, Jul 25, 2012 • By MICHAEL WARREN
Republican congressman Don Young of Alaska has crossed the aisle to endorse Democrat Mazie Hirono in the U.S. Senate race in Hawaii. "But here's what's important, Hawaii," Young says, sitting next to Hirono. "If you're looking for a United States senator who doesn't just talk about bipartisanship but actually knows how to work with both Republicans and Democrats to get things done, Mazie Hirono will be that senator." Watch the ad below:
12:00 AM, Jun 6, 2011 • By FRED BARNES
It’s anybody's guess whether Sarah Palin will run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. If she does, she’s likely to benefit from a highly favorable documentary that highlights the part of her career least known to most Americans.
9:23 AM, Sep 7, 2010 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
Freshman Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), who beat Ted Stevens in 2008, says the national party shouldn't be counting out Lisa Murkowski's seat in his home state. They just need a little faith:
West Point and Yale Law grad, decorated veteran, judge--and Alaska's next U.S. senator?11:05 AM, Aug 25, 2010 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
(Update: On Tuesday, August 31, Lisa Murkowski conceded to Joe Miller following the counting of most absentee ballots.)
In what's shaping up to be the most stunning upset of the 2010 primary season, incumbent GOP senator Lisa Murkowski is trailing political newcomer Joe Miller by 1,668 votes (47,027 to 45,359), with 100 percent of precincts reporting. If Miller can hold on to his lead, as about 8,000 absentee ballots are counted in the next week or two, he'll be in prime position to win the general election and become Alaska's next U.S. senator. So who is Joe Miller? And how did he do it?
1:42 AM, Aug 25, 2010 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
With 33 percent of precincts reporting, Joe Miller, the Sarah Palin-backed veteran and former judge, is leading incumbent Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski in the Republican Senate primary 51.2 percent to 48.8 percent--or 21,364 votes to 20,362 votes. As John Fund reported Tuesday, Miller was "closing the gap," but still down by double digits against Murkowski in the most recent polling. This would be a very big upset if Miller wins.
Update: With 50 percent of precincts reporting, Miller is holding his narrow lead over Murkowski, 51.8 percent to 48.2 percent.
Update II: The results remain practically unchanged, with 84.2 percent of precincts reporting. Miller still leads Murkowski, 51.45 percent to 48.55 percent.
Update III (8:57 a.m.): With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Miller leads Murkowski 51.1 percent to 48.9 percent--or 45,909 to 43,949 votes. But the election isn't over quite yet. The Hotline's Reid Wilson writes that there are 8,000 absentee ballots to be counted beginning next Tuesday. But, assuming Miller maintins his 1,960 vote lead as the final two percent of precincts are counted, Murkowski would need 5,000 of the 8,000 absentee votes break in her favor to overtake Miller. (Update III was updated at 9:38 a.m. to correct vote totals.)