How Democrats Lost the Midterm Elections

Dave Helfert




We’ll never know if Democrats actually could have emerged from the November 4th midterm election with a few new Senate seats, like Kansas, Kentucky or even Georgia. Or if they could have held on to a few they lost, like Arkansas, Colorado or South Dakota. We’ll never know because once again they blew it. They weren’t out-organized or outmanned. They were outthought, out-chutzpahed and, ultimately, out-foxed. 


Democrats across the country could have run on issues the public cares about; issues the public supports. Instead, they ran away from them.  They could have referred to the Affordable Care Act, rather than the dreaded ‘Obamacare,’ and pointed out that 10 million Americans now have healthcare coverage who didn’t before. Even if they didn’t want to suggest that the country is better off with more healthy people, they could have mentioned that 10 million fewer people will now have to rely on hospital emergency rooms for healthcare, which is far more expensive and for which the taxpayer picks up the tab.


They could have mentioned that there’s actually good news about the economy, which seems to be one of the major concerns for most Americans, at least according to every public opinion survey. The unemployment rate, at 5.8 percent, is the lowest in years. More than 200,000 new jobs were created in October, the 56th month in a row of job growth. The budget deficit has been cut in half since 2008. The U.S. is now close to becoming an energy exporter, producing and generating more than we use. And all this has happened under a Democratic administration, with little or no help from Republicans in Congress. They could have mentioned that.


But they didn’t. They ran like frightened sheep. And they let the Republican Party and Republican candidates create an environment filled with fear: Islamic militants, little children from Central America who came here for sanctuary to avoid rape and murder, the Chinese, the North Koreans, and the Ebola “crisis,” in which, as has been widely noted, fewer Americans died than have been married to Kim Kardashian. Yet Democrats allowed the Republican message: “Be afraid. Be very afraid” to frame the election.


So now we’re awash in descriptions of a Republican wave, promoted of course by the Republican Party apparatus, repeated dutifully by FOX News and echoed vapidly by many other pundits. Factually, a majority of voters went to the polls and voted for Republicans, but it was more a ripple than a wave. To refer to this as a national mandate, as GOP Chairman Reince Priebus insists, is laughable. You can call a slight breeze a hurricane, but it doesn’t make it so.


If you want to talk about a national mandate, President Obama was re-elected in 2012 with more than a 5-million vote margin over Mitt Romney. Yet, for the last two years, Republicans have completely ignored the “will of the people” and continued to oppose virtually everything the administration tried to do, even those issues with overwhelming public support. Hypocrisy barely begins to describe the fundamental dishonesty of the “loyal opposition.”



Expectations for razorthin margins were heightened by those who “pund” (isn’t that what pundits do?). They talked endlessly about polling results changing overnight, going back and forth like a tennis match. As a matter of fact, public opinion rarely lurches back and forth. It tends to move more slowly and take just a while to catch up with what’s happening. Occasionally, there are jolts, usually when something dramatic occurs: Mitt Romney’s 47 percent comments, Allison Lundergan Grimes’ refusal to admit that, as a Democratic delegate in 2012, she actually voted for the Democratic candidate. The idea that public opinion is constantly vibrating back and forth in the last few days of an election is pundit fantasy, and has a lot to do with comparing different polls and the sampling problems.


Republicans far surpassed usual midterm gains for the party out of the White House. But it came against many opponents who ran away from the accomplishments of their party and their president. That’s why Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY), under federal indictment for 20 counts of corruption and fraud, got re-elected. That’s how Ed Gillespie, former lobbyist for Enron and consummate Washington insider ran against Washington insiders and came within 15,000 votes out of more than 2-million of becoming a U.S. Senator from Virginia. That’s how Pat Roberts (R-KS), who basically takes up space in the Senate, got re-elected. That’s how Gov. Sam Brownback (R-KS), whose wacky economic theories have put his state’s economy in the tank and resulted in a lowered bond rating, got re-elected. That’s how Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL), by most accounts one of the most corrupt and unaccomplished politicians in Florida history, and who, according to the Tampa Bay Times, spent $100-million on television advertising, including nearly $13-million of his own money in the last week, managed to get re-elected.


The party “out of power” nearly always tries to nationalize and generalize midterm elections rather than fighting over issues that directly affect voters. This year, Republicans were wildly successful. But it would have been more interesting if Democrats had put up a real fight.


Author Bio:


Dave Helfert has been a political and governmental communicator for more than 30 years, writing speeches for elected officials and candidates, creating media in more than 200 political campaigns, working for six years as a Communications Director in the Clinton Administration and then nine years in the U.S. House.



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