It’s been about six hours since the end of election day 2014 and I’m about 5 hours and 59 minutes behind everyone else in thinking about the 2016 presidential election.
There are limits to what can be learned about voters in a presidential election from a midterm election – mostly because presidential elections draw a great many voters who can’t be bothered with midterms. But midterms do allow us to learn about candidates. In midterms, stars are born and stars burn out. Two examples come to mind from last night’s returns.
In Wisconsin’s Governor’s race a star was born. Incumbent Governor Scott Walker, a Republican, won a solid victory over his Democratic opponent. This was Walker’s third victory in four years. Some of us remember that he won in 2010 – another good year for Republicans – and quickly decided to act on his mandate, cutting taxes, making state workers pay more for their health care and pension programs, expanding school vouchers, permitting concealed weapons permits and limiting early voting. But in addition to acting on the classic Republican “to do” list, Walker moved to restrict collective bargaining rights for most state workers. This cut right to the heart of the Democratic base. As the nation watched, Democratic legislators walked out and massive protests erupted in Madison, the state capital.
The issue of bargaining rights for state workers led to a recall vote – Walker survived. Unlike many of his fellow Republicans, who talk the talk about public sector unions, Walker walked the walk and survived. This has put him into contention for the 2016 presidential election.
Travel south and east from Wisconsin and we can see a star that, unlike Walker, has lost some of its luster. The outgoing Governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley, has been drawing a lot of attention in Democratic circles for the possibility that he might challenge Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. One of the big lessons from presidential nominating politics is that when there is a very dominant candidate – think Vice President Mondale in 1984 – a younger, less well known candidate with the guts to run can get a lot of mileage – think Senator Gary Hart in 1984.
Hence, O’Malley, one of the very few Democrats to be seen thinking about a challenge to Hillary, was being carefully watched. And then, in one of the biggest surprises of the night, his Lt. Governor, Anthony Brown, lost to Republican Larry Hogan. This very blue state now joins another blue state, Massachusetts, in having a Republican Governor. Brown’s surprise loss is mainly attributed to O’Malley’s lackluster record as Governor and to a series of tax increases that Hogan harped on continuously throughout the campaign. Apparently voters agreed with Hogan and refused to give O’Malley a third term.
So Midterm 2014 is over. A star is born and a star is diminished. On to the main show.