Lessons from the Midterms

Posted on: November 15, 2018, by :

By Jeff Turner and J.M. Whit

On November 6th, a “blue wave” swept across the country, allowing Democrats to regain control of the House of Representatives after eight years of Republican control. Democrats also won several governorships, and majorities in multiple state legislatures as well.

That wave, however, did not extend to Indiana. Senator Joe Donnelly, the only Democrat to hold statewide office, lost his reelection bid to Republican Mike Braun. There were no flipped House districts in the entire state, not even in the ninth district, where Democrat Liz Watson ran what was expected to be a competitive campaign against incumbent Representative Trey Hollingsworth. Democrats also lost Senate seats in Missouri and North Dakota. As of this writing, a recount is taking place in Florida, where incumbent Senator Bill Nelson trails GOP Governor Rick Scott by an extremely narrow margin.

Democrats did, however, flip Senate seats in Nevada and Arizona, the Senate currently at 51-47 (excluding the Florida race and the runoff for a Mississippi Senate race, though it is expected to remain in GOP hands).

So what happened here in Indiana? Why did the blue wave not manifest in this state? Even in Deep Red Texas, progressive Democrat Beto O’Rourke only narrowly lost to incumbent Senator Ted Cruz in what proved to be a much closer race than many were expecting, even closer than the race here in Indiana between Donnelly and Braun.

An Indy Star article declared the Indiana Democratic Party “broken” after Donnelly’s loss. Whether this is the case remains uncertain. The fact of the matter is that the “blue wave” was thwarted by what political analysts are calling a “red tide” here in Indiana. This state did vote for Trump in 2016 by almost twenty points. And Vice President Mike Pence is Indiana’s former Governor. Trump’s last minute visit to the state may also have helped provide a much needed push for Braun’s campaign.

Would a progressive candidate in the mold of Beto O’Rourke have faired better? Who knows? Several Hoosier Democrats, more progressive ones, would have liked to see a progressive run in place of Donnelly, believing they would win. However, this fails to take into account electability and the voting demographics of the state of Indiana. Indiana is a red state that seems to only be getting redder. Texas, where O’Rourke narrowly lost, due to changing demographics, may well become a swing state in the next decade or two. It may not have mattered much either way. The political tightrope Donnelly was walking on finally broke, the Senator unable to appeal to both his Democratic base and Republican swing voters during his failed reelection bid. Sad, because he actually had a bipartisan voting record. It is doubtful that this will be emulated by Mike Braun.

So what good came out of this midterm election for Hoosier Democrats? Well, Democrats did retake the U.S. House of Representatives, putting what some would argue is a much-needed check on the Trump Administration. JD Ford also defeated Republican incumbent Mike Delph to become the state’s first openly gay lawmaker of the Indiana General Assembly. The state still has two Democratic Congressmen, Andre Carson and Pete Visclosky. More young people in the state are actively involved in the political process. And this election did see a record number of women run for public office, both here in Indiana and around the country, another caveat. And some of the candidates who came up short this time around may well run again.

It was a disappointing night in regards to Joe Donnelly’s loss, which effectively made it impossible for Democrats in Washington to retake the Senate and block future Trump Supreme Court and judicial appointments. It was always considered a long shot by most political analysts, but up until the Kavanaugh confirmation vote quite possible. It may well have been the Kavanaugh confirmation vote, the mishandling of the sexual assault allegations levelled against the SCOTUS nominee and current Justice by both Democrats and Republicans that led to GOP voters being more energized and enthusiastic about voting in the midterms than they were previously. Perhaps New Jersey Senator Cory Booker bears some of the blame for Donnelly’s loss due to his buffoonish antics during that debacle.

Maybe this election was a wakeup call for Hoosier Democrats (and Republicans) that will see more Hoosiers rise to the occasion and run for office at the state, local, and federal level. The polls were clearly off for the Indiana Senate race between Donnelly and Braun, most predicting Donnelly would narrowly win. People within the party were even saying they expected a Donnelly win, citing high early voting numbers in Marion county. But it didn’t happen, even with all the grassroots efforts, canvassing, phone banking, etc. It’s disappointing to say the least, to all the people who worked on his campaign and on other campaigns that saw their candidate lose on November 6th.

Elections are rough. Political campaigns often get nasty. There can be only one winner, one side always coming up short. And considering it’s a two-party system, with only two major “teams,” one team will always feel the bitter sting of defeat each election cycle.

But maybe it’s not really a “loss.” Maybe we are all winners in this last election. Like a spring cleaning and dusting off the tools in the toolshed, weeding the garden and replanting ideas? Maybe this midterm election, one that had record voter turnout, can help bridge the gap between a highly-polarized electorate, here in Indiana and in the nation as a whole, and encourage healthy, constructive debate. Bipartisanship is very much needed in Washington. Perhaps these midterm elections can propel both sides to take active measures to work towards the common good, and put country above political party.

We can only hope.

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