Midterms May Be Momentous or Mild
Both parties are sending messages conveying operatic levels of suspense about Tuesday’s election, like this: “The fate of this election still rests on a razor’s edge. The difference between victory and defeat will be determined by our actions in the final three days.” Or this, “Right now, there are organizers on the ground in states like Iowa and North Carolina who haven’t done laundry or eaten a homemade meal in weeks — because they’re spending every single minute of their time talking to the voters who will make a difference in this election.” The first was from the Republican National Committee, and the second from first lady Michelle Obama.
It is true that all citizens have a responsibility to vote, to learn, and to care.
Yet one political scientist thinks the 2014 midterms won’t matter that much. Georgia State University Associate Professor Daniel P. Franklin, author of, “Pitiful Giants: Presidents in their Final Terms,” says this will not be like 1994, which was a watershed election.
“The last truly consequential midterm election was in 1994. 2014 is not 1994. It is important to mention that in 1994 the Republicans took over the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years. Under the leadership of Speaker Newt Gingrich, the Republicans were able to pass much of their Contract with America, forcing President Bill Clinton to assert in 1995 that he was as president ‘still relevant.’ Postscript: Bill Clinton went on to win reelection in 1996 in a walk and most of the Contract with America was passed to little or no effect,” said Franklin in a statement from his university.
The framers of the Constitution designed our government that way, according to Franklin. Staggered elections and the separation of powers, in which Congress makes laws, the Judiciary interprets laws, and the president can veto what Congress decides, forces American policies to change slowly. That is not a bad thing, in his analysis. “Consequently, policy in the United States tends to move incrementally, just a little bit at a time, which all in all, given the success of the United States in comparison other countries has served us in good stead,” wrote Franklin.
One of the most competitive Senate races is in his state of Georgia. Democrat Michelle Nunn is vying with Republican David Perdue. Though Georgia is solidly Republican, the contest is so close that it may need a runoff January 6.
In a Sunday debate sponsored by the Atlanta Press Club, Nunn accused Perdue of devoting his business career to outsourcing jobs to foreign countries, and of underpaying women who worked for his company, while he accused her of providing “a rubber stamp” to President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Nunn denied being a rubber stamp, and named her support for the Keystone Pipeline as an example of her independent thinking.
In a sharp and repetitive exchange, he demanded she release Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints made against the nonprofit she led, the Points of Light Foundation. She said there is nothing to release because the complaints had no basis. The EEOC found that no discrimination occurred, said Nunn. Emily’s List ran an attack ad against Perdue that said, “Federal investigators found a company that (David Perdue) ran discriminated against women — paid them less than men for the same work.” Georgia Politifact found that statement to be “Mostly True,” marking it green on its “Truth-O-Meter.”
The ad highlights one of the several national issues that are playing out in the Nunn-Perdue race. Democrats are trying to cast Republicans as anti-woman.
As a successful businessman, Perdue is personifying the conservative stance that jobs are best created by the private sector. Nunn and her party have tried to use his career history against him.
When Perdue raised the question of EEOC complaints against Points of Light, he implied that Nunn may have been guilty of some kind of gender or racial discrimination, since that is what EEOC complaints are for.
According to the Brookings Institution, key issues in the Georgia race are jobs (Georgia has the highest unemployment rate in the country, 8.1 percent according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) and keeping health care costs manageable. The biggest issue is ending gridlock in Washington.
These things are important to most voters. The Georgia race is unusual because neither candidate is an incumbent, since Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss is retiring. The focus is on issues because no one can know what kind of senator either candidate would be.
Every Vote Precious
In a race this close, every vote is precious. A sub-drama includes accusations that organizations have been fraudulently registering voters, and that voter fraud may be carried out at the polls. Another controversial matter involves early voting. For the first time in Georgia, early voting includes Sundays. Critics say some churches are violating the separation of church and state, because they give members rides to polling places. A comment from Mary Nixon on Perdue’s Facebook page read ” You know democrats are busing people to the polls and watch out for changing votes from Repubican [sic] to democratic side”
Conversely, The New Georgia Project, a coalition of civil rights groups, has registered more than 100,000 mostly minority voters. Of those, about one third have not yet appeared on the rolls, months after registering, in some cases. Those people may have to cast a provisional paper ballot. The groups filed a lawsuit, asking Georgia Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp and counties to allow those people to vote electronically next week. Judge Christopher Brasher said no. Further legal challenges are likely.
As important as the race is to partisans and to the candidates, the outcomes still may not be earthshaking. In a counterpoint to Franklin’s thoughts about the slow rate of policy change, another political scientist thinks a Republican win would be good for the Democratic Party.
“I think it’s pretty simple, somewhat intuitive; it just makes sense,” said Dr. Costas Panagopoulos. “When Democrats control the Senate, and there is partisan gridlock, the president cannot criticize Congress without pointing fingers at his own party,” he said.
Control of Congress would allow Republicans to push through proposals they believe in or to block actions they oppose, according to Panagopoulos. “It’s difficult to say ‘obstruction’ if the House is in the control of one party and the Senate another.”
Lose Now to Win Later
He thinks it will help Democrats in 2016 if they lose in 2014. “I think it will establish opportunities to establish Republicans as the enemies.”
Panagopoulos is Professor of Political Science and Director of the Center for Electoral Politics and Democracy and the Master’s Program in Elections and Campaign Management at Fordham University in New York.
The most reassuring message about the midterm elections belongs to Franklin. The Founding Fathers, in a way, designed this democracy to be inefficient. That was one way of keeping it stable. Franklin wrote, “As one of my professors was fond of saying, ‘the Framers set out to design a government that didn’t work very well, and they were enormously successful.’