Oct 21 2014

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A Reality Check for the GOP

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GOP Must Do Better....
GOP Must Do Better….


2014 is shaping up as a good year for the GOP.

It is all but certain that John Boehner is going to add seats to his House majority. In addition, most forecasting models suggest, with increasing certainty, that the GOP will pick up the net six seats it needs to take control of the Senate.

There is a publicly muted sense of expectation among the Republicans going into the last two weeks of the campaign. GOP control of Congress would end Harry Reid’s reign of tyranny and permanently dash any hope for continued progressive legislation from Capitol Hill in President Obama’s last two years in office. Legislatively, unless it is genuinely bipartisan, the Obama administration would be over. Six years of jaw dropping over-reach would be at an end. The road to common-sense policies to address the nation’s most complex and difficult problems would be at hand.

But serious Republicans should be asking a more important and consequential question; why isn’t the GOP currently doing better?

If there was ever a favorable midterm election environment, right out of central casting, this would be it. President Obama’s approval rating is at 40 percent nationally. Six years of irresponsible policy and incompetent governance has hit critical mass and has come home to roost.

The hollowing out of the American economy, stagnant wages, middle class decline, government-subsidized Wall Street riches, NSA wiretapping, IRS politicization, the patient neglect at the VA, “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor,” traitors for terrorists, the epic folly of the Russian reset, the rise of ISIS, the beheading of Americans, stalemate with militant Iran, the willful disregard for America’s southern border, and the halting, uncertain Ebola response.

And those are just the highlights.

Worse for Democrats in the trenches, running for office, the President seems content to busy himself with golf and fundraisers, projecting an image of a detached an insulated Chief Executive.

Americans are taking note. As a new POLITICO poll shows, Americans feel as if events are spinning out of control with no one in charge.  In this environment, you could hardly ask for a better time to introduce voters to a fresh path. It should be broken field running for the GOP.

What is more, the favorable political environment is an overlay on a playing field that was already stacked heavily against the Democrats to begin with. The President’s party is defending six Senate seats – the difference for a Republican majority – in red states that Mitt Romney won by an average of 19 points. Five more Democratic seats are in states that were battlegrounds in 2012, where the President’s average margin of victory was less than four points, and where, critically POTUS’s current popularity is well below his percentage of victory in ’12.

As if that wasn’t enough, there is also the fact that historically, president’s almost always lose seats in the sixth year in office.  With that, you have the makings of a near perfect political storm in favor of the GOP.

So with this embarrassment of political riches in the offing, how is the GOP doing?

It is barely meeting minimums.

Of the red states, only West Virginia and Montana appear safely in the GOP column. But in Alaska, South Dakota, Louisiana, and Arkansas, the GOP challengers are only leading just outside the margin of error. South Dakota in particular is a race that should have long since been put away, but is now complicated by a third party candidacy.

Worse, in other red states with Republican incumbents, the Senate math has been upended by stronger than expected challenges.  Potential Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell leads by only 4.4 points in a state that Romney won by 22. In Georgia, the GOP candidate is ahead by half a point where Romney won by seven. In Kansas, incumbent Pat Roberts is in a dead heat against an independent candidate. In 2012, Romney carried Kansas by 22 points.

Any loss by a Republican incumbent adds a seat to the total required to get GOP control.

And then there are the battleground states. Kay Hagan has consistently led in the Senate race in North Carolina, a state that Romney carried by two points.  Though the GOP is genuinely competitive in Colorado and Iowa – the bright lights this season – with candidates that are out-performing Romney’s total by a swing of 10 points, strong Republican candidates in New Hampshire and Virginia have not been able to overcome the Democratic incumbents’ lead, though NH is the closer of the two. In true blue states, early hopes for a strong Republican campaign in Michigan and Oregon have all but fizzled out.

So, two weeks before the midterms, Republicans appear to be poised to achieve what is absolutely essential and nothing more.

14 days can be a lifetime in politics and perhaps the electorate has not yet reached its tipping point – perhaps a wave will yet emerge, locking down tight races for the Republicans and putting other races, not currently on the radar, in play. But right now, with polling that is publicly available, it appears that the GOP is poised for a good day, but far from an optimum day.  And that has ominous impacts for the future that the GOP should consider now.

Senate 2016: a new and bare Republican majority created this year could be very short-lived.  As the political map favored the GOP this year, 2016’s Senate map is decisively tilted in favor of the Democrats.

Incumbent Republicans are up for re-election in the blue states of Wisconsin, Illinois and Pennsylvania. This challenge becomes more problematic when you consider that this class of Republicans were originally elected in an off-year, with more favorable demographics, but will face voters in a presidential year when voter turnout is much higher.  In addition, four Republicans will be up in the battleground states of North Carolina, Iowa, Ohio and Florida.

This new map clearly offers Democrats a number of paths to a Senate majority through careful candidate selection and Election Day turnout mechanisms.

Complicating the Republican task further in 2016 are races in the very red states that are giving the Republicans headaches this year; Kentucky (Rand Paul), Kansas (Jerry Moran), South Dakota (John Thune), Alaska (Lisa Murkowski) and Georgia. Also, John McCain is up for re-election in 2016.  If for any reason McCain decides to step down, Arizona would immediately become a more competitive race.

The math dictates the requirement; if the Republicans want a Senate majority for longer than two years, they need to perform at better than the bare minimum this year.

Presidential Politics 2016: the stark reality is that there is no combination of red states that produces an Electoral College victory for the GOP. Romney’s total – 24 states, 206 electoral votes is a high water mark for the Republican base. 64 EVs must be found elsewhere.

At a minimum then, the GOP needs to win a trifecta of competitive states, Florida, Ohio and Virginia.  The Party is competitive – if recently unsuccessful – in all. Romney lost Florida by a mere 74,000 votes. Ohio fell by three points. Virginia by four points.  That gets the GOP to 266, with a choice of battleground states where the Party lost by an average of 6 points in ’12 – Colorado, Iowa and New Hampshire. Any one of the states can assure victory, with NH providing for a bare 270 electoral votes.

But how does the GOP then govern?

In our 50/50 society, it may be too much to ask for the majorities once rolled up by Reagan and Bush 41.  But it should not be beyond the scope of possible for a major governing party to secure at least 300 electoral votes to secure a broader mandate, particularly given the consequential decisions a new Republican majority is going to have to make in order to right the ship of state.

That is why this year’s election is shaping up as disappointment when looking to the future. In a climate so favorable to Republicans, the GOP has still had to abandon candidates in deep blue states that should have otherwise been open to a fresh message of change amid serial Obama disappointments. But in Michigan, Oregon and Minnesota, the GOP has all but conceded.  This, even though one seat is open and the Democratic incumbents in the other two are under 50 percent.

If the GOP cannot make inroads into blue states in this favorable political environment, what is the Party going to do in 2016? Indeed if the only way Republicans can be appealing in the blue states is for the state of the nation’s affairs to get even worse, then there is a more fundamental problem with the GOP.

This is a debate that Republicans should welcome if they have the good fortune of cementing a Senate majority on the 4th.  It will be the only conversation to have if the GOP somehow blows it Election Day.








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