Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What the US Senate will look like next year

I was hoping someone else would write this and save me the trouble of finishing it, but since I haven't seen anything better, I'll go ahead with mine.  Most of the excerpts below came from three sources: this piece at the Daily Beast, this article at the New York Times, and this report from USA Today.

The important thing to bear in mind is that Republicans did not make the Todd Akin/Sharron Angle/Christine O'Donnell mistakes of years past.  Either that or the low turnout favored the freakishly right to such an advanced degree that it did not matter.  And the other thing to note is that the blue wave is coming in 2016; 24 Senate seats up for re-election in two years have to be defended by Republicans, some of them in blue states like Marco Rubio of Florida and Rob Portman of Ohio (both have said they will not run for re-election to the US Senate if they decide to bid for the White House), Mark Kirk of Illinois, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.  More on that good news for Dems/bad news for Repubs in 2016 here and here.


Alaska -- Incumbent Democrat Mark Begich has finally conceded to R Dan Sullivan.  This was the Republicans' latest flip, making their total of those eight (so far, as we wait for the runoff in Louisiana).

(Sullivan) was backed early by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Karl Rove’s American Crossroads. His pedigree includes an undergraduate degree from Harvard, two stints in the second Bush administration and tenures as Alaska’s attorney general and commissioner of natural resources.

When his campaign needed a jolt this year, he called in a favor from one of the most recognizable figures in the Republican Party: Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state. Ms. Rice agreed to film an ad in which she looked straight into the camera and said, “America needs Dan Sullivan.”

Arkansas -- In one of the Senate races that was lost in the week before Election Day, Republican Tom Cotton defeated incumbent D David Pryor.

When Cotton takes his oath of office, he will become the youngest U.S. senator.

The 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred while Cotton was in his final year at Harvard Law School, causing him to rethink his future. The sixth-generation Arkansan clerked for a U.S. Court of Appeals judge and worked in private law practice before deciding to enlist in the U.S. Army. Cotton told Politico he delayed his Army enlistment because he made a commitment to the federal judge and needed to pay off his student loans.

Cotton eventually served five years in the Army and completed two combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, earning a Bronze Star among other commendations. Military groups say Cotton is one of the first Iraq War veterans to be elected to the U.S. Senate. [...]

Cotton tied Pryor, the last Democrat in the Arkansas congressional delegation, to President Obama throughout the Senate race and highlighted his opponent's support of the Affordable Care Act. [...]

The Republican's campaign spots also featured his drill sergeant and parents, who previously voted for Democrats such as Pryor and his father, David, a former Arkansas governor and U.S. senator.

"But like so many Arkansans, they realized that Barack Obama and the Obama Democrats don't reflect the old conservative Democrats that they knew and grew up with," Cotton told Real Clear Politics about his parents.

Here's what conservative radio talker Steve Deace is saying about him (and Iowa's Joni Ernst and Nebraska's Ben Sasse).

“What I heard from conservatives I talked to around the country during the election was ‘Who is going to go there and help out [Sen. Ted] Cruz and [Sen. Mike] Lee? Who is going to help out the wacko birds?’” said Deace, referring to the derisive term Sen. John McCain once used to describe Cruz that conservatives now wear as a badge of honor. “Our expectation is that [Ernst, Cotton and Sasse] are going to join the ranks of the wacko birds. That’s our expectation.”

Deace and his listeners won’t be the only ones looking to the trio to for results. So will conservative donors. The Senate Conservatives Fund and its affiliate Senate Conservatives Action, for example, plowed millions into the Iowa, Nebraska and Arkansas races. Ernst received nearly $450,000 in bundled contributions and $475,000 in independent expenditures from the groups for her race. Sasse got $487,000 in bundled contributions and more than $835,000 in outside expenditures in his GOP primary. Cotton picked up about $200,000 in bundled SCF money and saw more than $500,000 in outside SCF money in his race against Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor.

Another major conservative group, Club for Growth Action, poured more than $800,000 into Cotton’s race against Pryor, about $500,000 against Sasse’s primary opponents, and another $297,151 and $186,587 in bundled donations for Cotton and Sasse, respectively.

Colorado -- Cory Gardner beat incumbent D Mark Udall.  The loud objection one Democratic contributor had to Udall's emphasis on women's issues was, in the 20-20 hindsight post-election analysis affords, unfortunately the wrong issue to key on.

The race focused intensely on women's reproductive rights, with the Udall campaign highlighting Gardner's support for personhood legislation, which would provide a fertilized egg the same protections as a person, effectively making abortion illegal, as well as birth control under some interpretations of the legislation.

But Gardner recanted his support for such legislation early in the campaign. "The fact that it restricts contraception, it was not the right position," Gardner told The Denver Post in March. "I've learned to listen. I don't get everything right the first time."

Gardner went on to tout his new support for over-the-counter access to birth control. "I believe the pill ought to be available over the counter, around the clock, without a prescription. Cheaper and easier for you," he said in one ad.

Iowa -- Joni Ernst, R-Batshit Hog Castrator, defeated Bruce Braley and is replacing liberal lion Tom Harkin, which is probably the greatest lurch to the right that can be measured with modern technology.  Forget Braley's own epic failures; Harkin screwed up twice in the last days of this campaign.  Once was when he refused to allow the campaign warchest he had remaining to be used to help Braley, and the other was when he compared Ernst to Taylor Swift (for which he had to apologize).  Way to go out with a whimper, Tom.

Montana -- In one of the least surprising results on Election Night, the Big Sky State sent a Republican to replace Max Baucus.  From the time he left the Senate to become ambassador to China, Democrats knew they would have a hard time holding the seat.  Then the appointed placeholder, Lt. Gov. John Walsh, was discovered having fudged his resume', and what was already a long shot shifted into the loss column in August.  Rep. Steve Daines moves across the Rotunda; here's what the NYT wrote about him.

On social issues, Daines opposes abortion, same-sex marriage and funding of Planned Parenthood. He favors replacing the federal Affordable Care Act, and Common Core education standards, with "Montana based solutions.''

But in his Senate campaign, Daines focused on his support for the state's coal, oil and timber industries. In his single term in the House, Daines pushed for expanded logging in federal forest land and supported the Keystone oil pipeline.

Decrying what he calls the Obama administration's "war on coal,'' he opposes increased environmental regulation of the coal industry, supports a continued tax break for coal production on native American lands, and supports an environmentally controversial port in Washington state for the export of Montana coal.

North Carolina -- Incumbent Dem Kay Hagan could not hold on in the Red Wave, losing to Tea Party-proud Thom Tillis.

Tillis promoted his conservative credentials during the campaign. Stressing his experience in the business world, Tillis said he would help bring tax-cutting, regulation-reducing, "pro-growth policies" to the national economy.

Hagan led in polls for most of the race, but Tillis rallied amid attacks on the Obama administration.

The campaign was among the harshest of the election year, featuring millions of dollars of negative ads.

South Dakota -- It was believed that an independent challenger, former Republican Sen. Larry Pressler, would throw this race to the Dems and their nominee, Rick Weiland.  That was too hopeful.  Former Gov. Mike Rounds easily bested those two to replace retiring Dem Sen. Tim Johnson.

The 60-year-old Rounds has been winning elections in South Dakota for more than 20 years. He served two terms as governor from 2003 through 2011. Before that, he was elected to five terms in the South Dakota state Senate, where he served as majority leader for six years.


Rounds called for reining in the Environmental Protection Agency's proposal to reduce global warming emissions, eliminating the U.S. Department of Education, and repealing and replacing Obamacare.

"I think big government is the biggest challenge we've got, and we want big government out of South Dakota," he said during a debate.

West Virginia -- The no-doubter among the flippers was here, where Shelley Moore-Capito was never seriously contested to replace Dem Jay Rockefeller.  Capito actually comes off as the most moderate of newly-elected Republicans in the US Senate.

Capito shattered a glass ceiling in politics with her election as the first woman to represent West Virginia in the U.S. Senate.

Capito, 60, defeated Democrat Natalie Tennant, West Virginia's secretary of State. She is also the first West Virginia Republican elected to the Senate since the late 1950s.


In the House, Capito serves as chairwoman of a House panel on financial institutions and consumer credit that has broad sway over the sweeping Dodd-Frank banking law. Her panel has worked to enhance oversight of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that was created under the law that has given Wall Street fits.

The West Virginia race never got on the political radar, in part because of Capito's pragmatic approach in a state that has Democrats serving as governor and in the other U.S. Senate seat. She is popular among House colleagues in both parties and a member of the Republican Main Street Partnership, a moderate group that works with Democrats on fiscal issues.


Georgia  -- Believed to be the strongest pickup opportunity for Democrats, Georgia fell away from Michelle Nunn in the closing days.  David Perdue will go to Washington to replace Saxby Chambliss.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution wrote that Perdue is "known on Wall Street as a turnaround specialist who helps revive brands and reap rewards for investors," and he campaigned as a job creator who knows how to help businesses thrive.

But that background also became a flashpoint in the Senate race when Politico uncovered a 2005 deposition in which Perdue acknowledged that he had spent "most of my career" outsourcing work to Asia. The deposition was in a dispute over a company a North Carolina textile firm called Pillowtex that Perdue had run briefly and that closed shortly after he left in 2003. Opponents attacked him for the loss of 8,000 jobs there.

But Perdue was able to focus the Senate race on Obama, and repeatedly warned that Nunn would simply be a "rubber stamp" for Obama's policies.

Perdue's business background has made him wealthy, and he will become one of the 50 richest members of Congress upon his arrival in Washington.

Kansas -- Also thought to be a Democratic flip shot, the Jayhawk State's race wasn't all that close, as incumbent Pat Roberts prevailed over independent Greg Orman, 53-42.

Kentucky -- Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was thought to be vulnerable to a challenge from Alison Lundergan Grimes, but in hindsight she ran one of the weaker campaigns in the cycle.  Playing nearly constant dodgeball from Obama, Grimes got nailed too many times and lost 56-41.

Nebraska -- Ben Sasse, mentioned briefly above in the Arkansas excerpt, takes over from retiring Sen. Mike Johanns.  More on Sasse...

Sasse, 42, served in George W. Bush's administration in different roles with the Justice and Homeland Security departments, before doing a stint as an assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services. For a short time, Sasse was also chief of staff to Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb.


As a college wrestler, Sasse's secret weapon was to head butt his opponents. He has no feeling where he has a long scar on top of his forehead, the result of falling off a hayloft as a child. The Washington Post reports that injury allowed Sasse to excel with his wrestling specialty.  [...]  His primary victory in May over two rivals was considered a big win for Tea Party groups and conservatives such as Sarah Palin and Sen. Ted Cruz.

Oklahoma -- US Rep. James Lankford will replace ailing Tom Coburn from the Sooner State.

Lankford first became involved in politics in 2009, when he resigned from his position as director of the Falls Creek Christian youth summer camp to run for Congress, claiming God was "calling" him to do so. With the help of social media, Christian grassroots support and a financial advantage, he was elected to the seat vacated by Mary Fallin, who ran for governor, in 2010, beating his Democratic opponent with 63% of the vote.

Once in the House, Lankford earned a reputation as a hardworking conservative, ranked by the National Journal as the 76th most conservative House member in 2014. Serving on the House Committees on Budget and Oversight & Government Reform, Lankford was elected chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee following his reelection in 2012.

On the campaign trail, the Baptist minister took a stand against federal debt, vowing to stop deficit spending. Rather than play up his accomplishments in Congress, Lankford looked to paint himself as a citizen legislator, much like Coburn.

Michigan -- Gay Peters is the lone Democratic freshman in the Class of 2014.

When U.S. Sen. Carl Levin announced in early 2013 that he wouldn't run for a seventh term this year, it was immediately apparent to anyone who follows politics in Michigan that Gary Peters was the Democrat most likely to succeed him.

Wonkish and bespectacled, Peters, 55, is a congressman from Bloomfield Township in Detroit's wealthy northern suburbs. He has been on an impressive string of political victories since wresting a Republican-controlled district from Rep. Joe Knollenberg in 2008.

In 2010, he barely beat back the Republican wave to keep his seat. Then, in 2012, after Republicans tried to force him out by placing him in a district with a senior Democrat, Peters instead stepped into a neighboring district in Detroit proper, winning easily. He became the first white to represent the city in Congress in decades.


Throughout his political career, Peters has counted on support from traditional Democratic sources – especially unions. But he has also worked to forge an independent identity in Congress, co-sponsoring bills with Republicans, including one that would crack down on duplicative spending in the federal government, and breaking with his party on some key votes.

"In the Senate," he said, "I will continue to focus on working with members of both parties to overcome gridlock and identify practical solutions."

You might have noticed that there is a very specific intention among many of these Senators-elect to get something done, and not grandstand or demagogue.  We'll watch closely to see if those were just campaign slogans.

I have a US House version of this post in draft status, and a similar one on the Texas Legislature (House and Senate) that needs some polishing.

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