2014 Midterm Elections: What to Expect

Will this year’s elections have any impact on the 2014 midterm congressional elections? Last night, voters in Virginia and New Jersey elected governors and other statewide officials. As expected, Democrat Terry McAuliffe (VA) and Republican Chris Christie (NJ) were victors in these off-year gubernatorial contests. Our colleague, Bill Galston, has some excellent analysis on last night’s races on FixGov blog. As we move forward from these races, attention naturally turns to next year’s midterms.

Yesterday, Brookings’ Center for Effective Public Management hosted a panel previewing the 2014 midterm elections. The panel was moderated by USA Today’s Susan Page and included Elaine Kamarck (Brookings), Charlie Cook (Cook Political Report), John Hudak (Brookings), and Robert Boatright (Clark University).  The hour and a half long discussion engaged a host of issues including last night’s governors’ races, next year’s congressional and gubernatorial contests, health care policy, immigration policy, party infighting, campaign finance, presidential leadership, and more.

Panelists largely echoed a few important points about next year’s midterms and last night’s races. First, pundits too often use prior election outcomes as a means of telling a story about the next election. Doing so is quite risky because often election outcomes reflect a variety of issues relevant to that moment.

Second, while there are clear takeaways about the conservatism or liberalism of the victors in last night’s elections, it is important to remember that specific, state-level factors affected Virginia and New Jersey voters last night. The races likely tell us little about what might happen in a gubernatorial race in Tennessee or Massachusetts next year. National trends exist, but one canon remains: all politics is local.

Finally, while the Affordable Care Act may not have played a large role in yesterday’s elections, the panel was clear: depending on how well or poorly ACA is implemented over the next year may have serious implications for the outcomes of next year’s races.

Below are a few highlights from the event. To see the full video, visit the 2014 Midterm Election Preview: One Year Out event page.

Elaine Kamarck on Management and the Affordable Care Act

Elaine Kamarck talked about the challenges many presidents face in managing a large bureaucracy. She noted one thing is clear about a president who faces managerial failures: “the rest of his agenda is doomed.” The current challenges the president faces over the implementation of the Affordable Care Act may pose problems for President Obama. Elaine explains that this president is at a crossroads in his presidency that will largely determine what his second term will look like.

Charlie Cook on Campaign Finance

In response to a question from the audience about whether upcoming campaign finance lawsuits may change the landscape of elections and spending, Charlie Cook offered a resounding ‘no.’ He explained that the current system of campaign finance allows people to spend as much as they want, so long as they are creative in the ways they go about it.

John Hudak on The President Needing to be a Politician

President Obama is often criticized for doing little to boost the Democratic Party in terms of fundraising on behalf of Congress. The president needs to be more strategic about how to prop up the party. He needs to raise more money, improve relations with Democrats in Congress, and take a more strategic approach to policy. The president and legislative leaders need to think about the electoral gains from scheduling votes in Congress on key policy proposals, particularly in advance of the midterm elections.

Robert Boatright on ACA and Presidential Popularity

It is critical to consider in the midterms what role President Obama will play in helping candidates campaign or simply whether he is an asset or a liability in general. Robert Boatright explains that, unlike President Bush, President Obama’s approval ratings are unlikely to dip into the 30s or 20s. However, the real world effects if implementation can have huge effects on his popularity.

To see the full video, visit the 2014 Midterm Election Preview: One Year Out event page.