United States: A Republican Avalanche?

In the next nine days, if everything goes as it seems it will, the Obama administration and the Democratic Party are going to get an electoral beating that will allow the Republicans to capture the Senate, widen their majority in the House of Representatives and prepare the ground for an attack on the White House in 2016.

It’s a very different world from that of November 2008, when Obama ignited the imagination of his country and the world with his historic triumph.

All of the seats in the House, 35 seats — more than a third — in the Senate, as well as 39 governorships are in play.

The Republicans already control the House of Representatives, where the Democrats would have to gain 19 seats in order to have power, and the Democrats control the Senate, where the Republican opposition needs to take six seats to turn the tables. Of the 35 seats that are up for election, 21 are currently Democrat and 14 Republican. Everything indicates that the fight will center on the elections in North Carolina, Colorado, Iowa, Alaska and Louisiana, which are currently Democrat-held. Of the Republican seats that will be up for election, the fight is in Kansas.

Polls have allowed statistical analysts to predict the probability of a Republican takeover of the Senate at 60 to 95 percent. FiveThirty Eight, Nate Silver’s blog that continues to be [read] like the Bible in the United States during election season, puts the probability at 66 percent that the opposition will take the Senate from Obama’s Democrats. Also, several Democratic governorships could pass into the hands of the Republican Party (there are 39 up for election, of which 15 are currently Democrat).

The magnitude of what appears to be in the making cannot be exaggerated: On one front, Lincoln’s Party could widen its majority in the House of Representatives, converting it to the widest majority since World War II; on the other, if they gain control of the Senate, they would achieve something that has only happened for 10 of the last 60 years — gain control of both houses of Congress.

One especially interesting factor is that this projected scenario has a lot to do with the 11 former Confederate states of the South. They were a Democratic bastion from the Civil War until the 1960s, when Lyndon Johnson’s decision to sign civil rights bills into law to benefit the black population produced a hostile backlash from white conservatives, who have been strongly Republican ever since. There, the Republicans could obtain their highest representation since the party was created. Currently, the Republicans have 16 out of 22 Senate seats from the old Confederate South, but it looks like they could come out of the elections on Nov. 4th with 19 or 20, reducing the Democrats to a purely symbolic representation.

Why is this significant? Because more than confirming the cultural gap between the South and other parts of the country, it would mess up the timeline that the Democrats have been planning since Barack Obama’s victory. His victory gained a lot of votes in some Southern states and threatened to reset the map, thanks to ever-growing minority populations, young voters and the educated middle class. It’s true that in some states in the South like Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia, these three factors seem to be destabilizing the traditionally Republican loyalties of the electorate, but in the latter two there is no guarantee that the Democrats will win in these elections. And in any case, the rest of the South is heading in the other direction.

The trends seen on the two coasts, the east and the west, where Obama has been shown increasing support, have provoked a defensive close-mindedness in wide swaths of the middle of the country, where cultural conservatism has been reborn due to opposition to Washington and the coasts’ open mentalities. Gay marriage and abortion are two polarizing issues that have thrown conservatives toward what they call “marriage sanctified by God” and pro-life [positions] with renewed passion. The fear — agitated by the tea party — of Obama’s “socialism” (read: the Europeanization of the socioeconomic model of the United States) has reinforced this sentiment, which has its neurological center in the South but also reaches the Midwest, where Democrats and Republicans have been fighting a bitter cultural battle for years.

On two recent occasions Obama said that the Democratic candidates are the candidates of his political agenda. “I’m not on the ballot,” he stated. “But make no mistake: These policies are on the ballot,” referencing his agenda.

Meanwhile, the Democratic candidates that are up for re-election in the Senate (or are running against Republican incumbents) are no longer hiding their annoyance. Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is running against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, has refused to state publicly if she voted for Obama in the presidential elections. Only one Democratic candidate, Gary Peters of Michigan, has appeared in public with the president. Most candidates have stopped supporting the president’s key reforms, like healthcare, saying that they would propose “adjustments” or “corrections.” This has forced Obama to campaign only in blue states (as Democratically-controlled states are called) where there is no danger of the Democratic candidate losing.

The black vote could be much lower this time than in the last two presidential elections — they are predicting about half — and the Hispanic vote could also fall dramatically. Young voters and liberal professionals (in the American sense of the word “liberal,” which is very different from the Latin American or European sense) have not shown the same enthusiasm for casting their votes as in the past, either.

In the case of the black vote, the fact that Obama is not on the ballot as well as the disproportionate impact that this community has suffered from the economic downturn are reasons not to vote. In the Hispanic community’s case, the absence of the immigration reform that Obama has promised and that they have eagerly awaited is a reason to stay home. But maybe a bigger problem is that the Hispanic vote has a much lower impact in states where Senate seats are really up in the air. Hispanics represent 10.7 percent of the electorate in the United States, but only 2.9 percent in Arkansas, 4 percent in Georgia, 3.5 percent in North Carolina and 4.8 percent in Alaska.

Of the states where the fights are toughest, Hispanics only make up a percentage of voters higher than the national average in Colorado, where they are 14 percent. In the elections for the House of Representatives, Hispanics are only above 10 percent in one quarter of the voting districts. The reality is that Hispanics are not a determining factor in Congressional elections.

The reasons for the Republican upset are no mystery: Obama has an approval rating of 40 to 44 percent, which in the two-party system in the United States is considered very low; in surveys, the public says that they trust the Republicans to manage the economy more than the Democrats (a confidence that the Republicans fought hard to gain, because for years it was thought that the tax cuts and deregulation of the conservative agenda aggravated the crisis in 2008); for the first time in many years, voters are saying that they prefer the Republican Party as it is (which in the United States is known as the generic vote); Obama’s moving from the center to the left on issues of moral value has not won any votes for his party though it seems to fit with the general trends in society, probably because he already had the support of those voters anyway; and finally, healthcare reform, which the Democrats saw as his great appeal when he was elected, is still unpopular despite the expansion of coverage for the high costs [of coverage] and [the policy’s] effect on medium-sized enterprises.

Regarding others, the effect of the presidential campaign could be bad for Hillary Clinton, the probable presidential candidate who has distanced herself from Obama in the past weeks precisely because she sees his decline.

For the Republicans, it’s an ideal scenario. Not only to confront the campaign, but above all because they will have a secure majority if they win the presidential elections in 2016, which will allow them to govern without Congressional obstacles. (Although there will also be Congressional elections in 2016, it’s unlikely that the party that dominates both [bodies] would win the presidency and lose Congress at the same time). That said, the Republican Party, divided as it is and with an unresolved dual ideology, has a legendary ability to shoot itself in the foot. Also unlike the Democratic Party, they still don’t have a clear, advantageous presidential figure that could win over the rest.

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