Well, that’s over. And now the long and winding slog to 2016 is well underway.
The Republican triumph at the polls on Tuesday was stinging but not all that surprising. And despite the overriding sense that voters wanted something — anything — to change in Washington, generalizations are difficult to make. Many voters sent mixed messages — they supported higher minimum wages, for example, in five states where Republicans, who tend to oppose such a thing, otherwise did well.
A handful of takeaways for the long haul:
Dark money and outside financing are here to stay. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 opened the way for corporate and individual donors to flood the political process anonymously. This year’s McCutcheon decision served to loosen campaign finance rules even more for deep-pocket individual donors. With the GOP in control of Congress, there’ll likely be no more grandstanding efforts to overturn the trend, as Senate Democrats attempted in September.
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Democrats benefit from outsider funders, too, but as Russ Choma notes at the Center for Responsive Politics’ OpenSecrets.org: “Democratic/liberal groups channeled most of their money through organizations that disclosed donors, while their more conservative counterparts relied heavily on secret sources funneling money through political nonprofits.”
In three of the five most expensive U.S. Senate races (North Carolina, Iowa and Colorado), the center reports that outside groups outspent the candidates’ campaigns by more than two to one. In Kentucky and Georgia, the campaigns spent somewhat more than the outside groups. Overall, outside groups spent more than the candidates in 36 races, including the Senate race in Kansas.
“That’s a new dynamic in elections,” Choma writes, and the totals don’t even count perhaps as much as $100 million in even darker money spent on issue advertising.
Neither party seems to have a clue as to how to reach young voters. People 30 or under made up only 12 percent of voters on Tuesday, according to an NBC exit poll. That’s about the same as in two previous midterm elections, and down from about 18 percent in presidential election years. (The 18-to-29 age group makes up slightly more than 21 percent of eligible voters.)
Of younger people who did vote, 55 percent cast their ballots for Democrats across the nation.
In the Kansas Senate race, 11 percent of voters were 18 to 29, and 57 percent of them they went for Greg Orman, the independent challenger. By contrast, incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts handily outpolled Orman among voters 65 and over.
Both parties will have work to do in getting young people to participate in the process. Keep an eye on Rand Paul’s GOP presidential candidacy and be very concerned about how his anti-authoritarian allure matches the outlook of many potential millennial voters.
Nothing is certain, and, as Bob Dylan sang, “nothing was delivered.” As Republican presidential contenders seek alpha primacy in the coming months, the Democrats’ odds-on contestant, Hillary Clinton, will be staking out strategies and loading up her treasure chest. A GOP-controlled Congress could play right into her hands if the party’s fractious battles continue and the Republicans let the leadership ball slip from their cold, hard hands.
That said, Clinton may yet be seen by many voters as too much of the same thing again. She, of course, will appeal to those who see her as a role model for ambition, accomplishment and pragmatism. But she has much work to do.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who has genuine progressive and populist instincts, may yet decide to challenge Clinton from the left. Does Clinton fend her off by becoming even more conservative, or will she get pulled in the other direction to offer a real alternative to whichever GOP candidate gets the nod?