History tells us that the political party outside of power of the White House usually does well in a mid-term elections, especially if the president’s approval rating is low and the economy fares poorly. It was supposed to be a Red Wave, where Republicans took back Congress and possibly win back the U.S. Senate. The Red wave turned out to be a trickle. As of this writing, Republicans won the U.S. House of Representatives with 220 seats to Democrats 213 seats (there are two seats too close to call). Democrats won the Senate with 50 seats to Republicans 49 seats. A runoff for the Georgia seat will be on December 6. So what happened? Let’s start at the federal level.
Relitigating 2020 Election Unprofitable. According to exit polls and election analysis by The Hill, candidates who focussed on claims of 2020 election fraud fared poorly. Pennsylvania GOP gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano lost by double digits. Analysts believe he dragged the entire GOP ticket down. Michigan GOP gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon lost by double digits. New Hampshire U.S. Senate candidate Don Bolduc, backed election fraud claims in the primary then reversed himself, lost to Democrat Sen. Maggie Hassan by 10 points. GOP candidate for governor in Maryland Dan Cox arranged tour buses for the Jan. 6 2021 rally that ended up violent and deadly. Cox tweeted “Pence is a traitor” after he certified the 2020 result. Pennsylvania Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate Mehmet Oz and Nevada’s Adam Laxalt also went down to defeat. According to Maryland’s Republican Gov. Larry Hogan,”people who tried to relitigate the 2020 election and focused on conspiracy theories and talked about things the voters didn’t care about, they were almost universally rejected.” Altogether, six of seven Republican Secretary of State candidates who relitigated the 2020 election lost their races.
One of the most talented GOP gubernatorial candidates was Arizona’s Kari Lake who ran for governor. Lake, a former television news anchor and articulate speaker, could fire up a crowd. She identified herself as a “stop the steal” candidate and unfortunately never escaped its baggage. She also unnecessarily offended the John McCain wing of the Arizona GOP. She wasn’t the only GOP “stop the steal” candidate in Arizona who lost. Mark Finchem, candidate for Arizona secretary of state lost by nearly five points. U.S. Senate candidate Blake Masters also lost. On the other hand, Arizona Congressional Republicans who refused to relititigate the 2020 election and focused on the future won. In the end, Arizona Congressional Republicans flipped two House seats. Arizona is important to examine because it has been a Republican state, traditionally led by Republicans, with one of the nation’s most conservative governors, Doug Ducey leaving office. That seat will now be filled by a particularly weak Democratic candidate who refused to debate during the campaign.
Malice and vindictiveness repels. Candidates who are constantly attacking and calling their opponents names might give red meat to their base but such antics repel swing voters who would rather not see politics turn into bloodsport. Four days before the election, Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake foolishly cursed John McCain supporters.“We don’t have any McCain Republicans in here, do we?” Lake asked from a campaign stage. “Alright, get the hell out. Boy, Arizona has delivered some losers, haven’t they?” Being unnecessarily offensive is never a good idea. Never. Lake needed McCain voters to win, but instead of building a bridge she chose to repel potential voters. Instead of assembling a legal team to challenge the results, it would serve Lake better to spend time on an honest assessment as to how she could have won over a majority of votes. Bridge building is a must for winning candidates.
Opponents’ Negatives Aren’t Enough to Win. Even though Pres. Biden’s approval ratings are very low, even though inflation is at record levels, even though voters are feeling it in their wallets, the negatives of grievance-peddling candidates is even more repelling. Democratic negative ratings cannot be the only thing that drives voters to vote Republican. This was a surprise lesson. What was of greater concern to voters, especially those independents and mainline Republicans was that they were repelled by cranks, conspiracy theorists, name callers, and malcontents potentially holding office. That prospect was unacceptable to many voters. Nationally, 13 percent of Republicans voted for Democrats. In other words, a sizable number of GOP voters were particular about the kind of Republican they wanted to represent them. Voters in the mid-term election wanted measured officials who refused to dwell on the past and lead the U.S. into the future.
Inflation and Abortion Top Issues. According to exit polls, inflation was the most important issue to 31 percent of voters. Abortion was the second most important single issue for 27 percent of voters. Voters in California, Michigan, and Vermont voted to enshrine abortion rights into law. Voters in Montana and Kentucky voted down pro-life measures. The U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling that overturned Roe v Wade in June played a big factor. Abortion proponents spent big to defeat pro-life measures and groups like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU used the recent ruling to misinform and scare voters.
Voters Believed Democracy Threatened. According to exit polls, more than 66 percent of mid-term voters believed democracy is either “somewhat threatened” or “very threatened.” Interestingly, voters on the right and left agree, yet they had different reasons. The January 6 hearings held by Congress earlier in the year played a large role in forming public opinion about the viability of the democratic process and the peaceful transfer of power. Revelations of former Pres. Trump pressuring key Republicans in Arizona and Georgia to overturn election results were especially damaging. Twenty percent of mid-term voters said they were “not very confident” or “not at all confident” that their state’s election results would be fair. This group overwhelmingly voted for the GOP.
Casting a Vision is Critical. Proverbs 29:18 says that “where there is no vision the people perish.” This maxim is true for political candidates as well. Too many Republican candidates failed to cast a vision for a stronger, more vibrant republic, where communities are safe, businesses prosper, families can provide for their children, and the economy thrives. Those are winning issues. Any amount of time spent relitigating 2020 results took away from the messaging that resonated with voters.
Competency Matters. Voters expect their public officials to be competent. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis carefully and responsibly managed the state the past four years. He led with confidence with hurricane recovery efforts that devastated parts of Southwest Florida. He delivered historic tax relief earlier this year, vetoed unnecessary spending, managed state government in a responsible way that attracts growth. He also signed legislation that prohibits LGBT politicization in K-3 classrooms. Voters will reward competent candidates who can manage main priorities of government. They will also give latitude when it comes to contentious social issues. DeSantis strong candidacy helped Republicans win at all levels, including an additional four state Senate and nine state House seats.
Get Out The Vote is Crucial. Republicans have rejected early voting and mail-in voting where available. Democrats have a better job getting their voters to vote early. Republicans must catch up with early voting strategies. They must also expand their voting base by reaching voters disengaged from elections.