Midterm elections predict political trends

With the midterm elections firmly in our rear view mirrors, it is always appropriate to take some time to reflect on the themes of the election, particularly as the nation prepares for a presidential election in two years. In a few months, potential presidential candidates will begin announcing, and will be using the capital they built during this election in order to launch their own bids for higher office. All of them will paint a picture of why the Democratic Party was shunned in 2010, and why that makes them eligible to replace President Obama in 2012.

The most potent theme that emerged this election was that of the establishment versus the grassroots. These fights were rather rancorous on the Republican side. Obviously the Tea Party was a potent force in primaries in competitive Republican contests across the country, winning the nomination in states such as Kentucky, Delaware, Colorado, Nevada and Alaska. However, for all of the U.S. Senate races where the Tea Party candidate prevailed, there were also a number where the eventual candidates were predominantly unchallenged in their efforts to clinch the nomination. In North Carolina, for example, Richard Burr was potentially vulnerable due to his vote for the TARP bank bailout. However, a massive fundraising advantage, and an otherwise conservative voting record helped to block any attempts to circumvent him from the right.

This was common in other states, including open seats or challenges where candidates quickly solidified GOP primary support such as Wisconsin, North Dakota, Ohio, Missouri and Washington. But despite the ongoing media narrative that the GOP was severely divided, there were also times when the Democratic Party had its own heartache.Let’s not forget, Blanche Lincoln faced a stiff primary challenge in Arkansas. Michael Bennett was almost unseated by a primary opponent in Colorado. In North Carolina, the SEIU threatened to start a new party to challenge Democrats who had opposed health care reform, which they eventually neglected.

The polarization of the parties also gave independents hope that they could make an impact this election. Lincoln Chafee was elected Rhode Island governor without a party label. Charlie Crist basically ruined the remainder of his political career by becoming an independent to run for U.S. Senate, only to see Marco Rubio win by almost 50 percent. Most interestingly, Lisa Murkowski won reelection in Alaska as a write-in candidate, becoming the second person to ever be elected to the Senate through a write-in campaign (Strom Thurmond was the first).

While Chafee and Murkowski were successful, their heritage as the children of former Senators and Governors helped to make sure that they were well known and popular enough to win election. Crist’s weather vane politics, on the other hand, sank his campaign as everyone saw that he was a blatant political opportunist.

Regardless of the primaries, the general election itself was a successful slap in the face to the Democratic Party. While Democrats, like now-Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and President Obama, blamed the economy and a failure to communicate, it is ludicrous to think that their performance in government had no effect on the mood of voters. The elaborate “shelacking,” to quote the President, was a result of the Democrats’ lust for health care reform while the rest of the country was focused on the economy. After the 2008 election, even I was skeptical that Republicans could reclaim the House in 2010. However, the Democratic agenda proved to be so unpopular that they lost 60 seats in the House, erasing any semblance of a majority. The question will be, will Republicans act on their ideals and retain their gain in Congress? Or will we once again allow the allure of power to affect our judgment?

Seth Williford is a senior political science major from Wilson, N.C.

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