The Republicans’ decisive sweep of the 2014 midterm elections should be a wake up call for Democrats, and there are lessons to be learned. People will not go to the polls and vote in large numbers if they do not have a compelling reason to go. Second, Republicans learned from their mistakes and capitalized on their opportunity. Republicans should be careful about being too exuberant in celebrating because this was an election cycle they were supposed to win. Historically, off presidential year elections favor the party not in the White House and several of the Senate seats in play were held by Democrats in red states—states won by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012. Republicans have two years to deliver or they will be in danger of losing the Senate again in 2016 when the playing field will favor Democrats.
Election night was not a complete sweep for Republicans. New Hampshire Sen. Jeane Shaheen managed to fend off Republican challenger Scott Brown and Democrat Tom Wolf unseated unpopular Pennsylvania Republican Governor Tom Corbett. However, Democrats lost races they had a chance to win in North Carolina, Georgia, and Maryland. In Virginia, former governor and current U.S. Senator Mark Warner was expected to win handily but clings to an ultra slim lead over Republican Ed Gillespie. In my very blue state of Maryland, Democrat Anthony Brown lost his race for governor to Republican Larry Hogan by the significant margin of nine points because he failed to present a compelling vision for the future of the state under his leadership.
The ranks of social workers in the House will be diminished by two as Rep. Allyson Schwartz resigned to make an unsuccessful run for governor in Pennsylvania and Rep. Carol Shea-Porter was defeated again in New Hampshire’s First Congressional District. She lost in 2010 and regained her seat in 2012, but fell three points and 6,000 votes short in this year’s election. You have to wonder if a concerted effort by social workers might have helped overcome her deficit. The five remaining social workers—Reps. Barbara Lee, Susan Davis, Luis Gutierrez, Kyrsten Sinema, and Niki Tsongas all prevailed in their races with relative ease. These five are half of the 10 social workers in the 111th Congress when former Congressman Edolphus Towns founded the Congressional Social Work Caucus.
The Republicans’ capture of the Senate most likely ensures very little progress will be made on some of the most pressing problems facing the country such as economic insecurity among the middle class, the growing ranks of Americans living in extreme poverty and the threat of global warming. Yet there will be pressure on Republicans to raise the minimum wage and produce other policies that will make a difference in the lives of average Americans. The GOP will likely continue its assault on the Affordable Care Act to appease their base on the far right. Of course, these know their efforts will be fruitless without majorities necessary to overturn a presidential veto. The President, on the other hand, will likely sign some of the House-initiated bills that have been waiting in the Senate for this turn of events.
It is very unlikely that Republicans will abandon their supply-side economic preferences for a more equalitarian approach to governing that spreads the wealth. They remain beholden to the “job creators” who poured millions of dollars into campaigns needed to win both chambers of Congress. But it will be much more difficult for them to continue to blame President Obama and the Democratic Party for the lack of progress on the economic front. It will be interesting to watch how all of this plays out. In the meantime, Democrats have their work cut out for them while waiting for Hillary Clinton to come to the rescue in 2016.
President Obama’s policies are not the reason so many Americans remain mired in an economic slump—few of his legislative proposals were able to get through the morass in Congress. Where he fell short was his inability to inspire hope among the populace by articulating a vision of how Americans would be better off because of Democratic policies. Americans do not want more food stamps and social services. Yes, they are needed during economic downturns but what Americans really want is an economy that works for everybody. Few people are really just takers. Most Americans want a decent job and the ability to care for themselves and their loved ones. Can Democrats present a vision for and a path to a more equitable society? Their future and ours depend on it.