Parties Trading Places for 2014

Demographic realignment is remaking the Senate map — and that could cost Democrats their majority.

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 28: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks in the Brady Briefing Room at the White House on February 28, 2014 in Washington, DC. President Obama spoke about the crisis in Ukraine.  
Getty Images
Ronald Brownstein
Add to Briefcase
Ronald Brownstein
March 6, 2014, 4 p.m.

The big takeaway from the 2012 elec­tion was the lim­its of the mod­ern Re­pub­lic­an elect­or­al co­ali­tion. It in­creas­ingly ap­pears that the big takeaway from 2014 will be the lim­its of the mod­ern Demo­crat­ic elect­or­al co­ali­tion.

Each side’s di­lemma fits neatly in­to a bookend. Re­pub­lic­ans can’t at­tract enough minor­it­ies to con­sist­ently cap­ture the White House. Demo­crats can’t win enough whites to con­sist­ently con­trol Con­gress.

The 2012 elec­tion crys­tal­lized the Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial di­lemma. Mitt Rom­ney won more than three-fifths of both whites over 45 and blue-col­lar whites, and a high­er share of the total white vote than Ron­ald Re­agan did in his 1980 land­slide. Yet Pres­id­ent Obama soundly de­feated Rom­ney any­way by mo­bil­iz­ing the Demo­crats’ “co­ali­tion of the as­cend­ant”: minor­it­ies, mil­len­ni­als, and col­lege-edu­cated and single whites, es­pe­cially wo­men.

The 2014 elec­tion is spot­light­ing the off­set­ting Demo­crat­ic di­lemma: That new co­ali­tion doesn’t rep­res­ent a clear ma­jor­ity in enough states to re­li­ably con­trol the Sen­ate, or enough dis­tricts to re­li­ably con­trol the House.

In the House, the Demo­crats’ big prob­lem is that their co­ali­tion is ex­cess­ively con­cen­trated in urb­an areas. This provides Re­pub­lic­ans an in­her­ent ad­vant­age that they mag­ni­fied with their con­trol of con­gres­sion­al re­dis­trict­ing after 2010.

In the Sen­ate, the Demo­crats’ par­al­lel prob­lem is that their new co­ali­tion is barely a whis­per in smal­ler, rur­al, older, pre­pon­der­antly white states that un­der the Con­sti­tu­tion all re­ceive the same num­ber of sen­at­ors as be­hemoth states such as Cali­for­nia, Texas, and Flor­ida. This year’s battle for Sen­ate con­trol will al­most cer­tainly turn on wheth­er a few Demo­crat­ic in­cum­bents in Re­pub­lic­an-lean­ing states can over­come that chal­lenge.

Frus­tra­tion over the eco­nomy and the tur­moil sur­round­ing Obama’s health care law have ex­pan­ded Re­pub­lic­ans’ Sen­ate op­por­tun­it­ies to in­clude Demo­crat­ic-lean­ing states such as Michigan and Col­or­ado. But the biggest threat to the Demo­crats’ 55-45 Sen­ate ma­jor­ity is that the party must de­fend sev­en seats it holds in states that backed Rom­ney over Obama. That list in­cludes Demo­crat­ic in­cum­bents seek­ing reelec­tion in Alaska, Arkan­sas, Louisi­ana, and North Car­o­lina, and open seats that Demo­crats now hold in Montana, South Dakota, and West Vir­gin­ia.

Ex­cept in North Car­o­lina, there simply are not enough “as­cend­ant” voters in those states to pro­duce a ma­jor­ity; Demo­crats can win only by cap­tur­ing enough of the older, blue-col­lar, and rur­al whites who have aban­doned the party at an ac­cel­er­at­ing pace un­der Obama. “The elec­tion is be­ing played on Re­pub­lic­an turf be­cause of the dom­in­ance of non­col­lege whites and cul­tur­al con­ser­vat­ives in the states that are most crit­ic­al for de­term­in­ing Sen­ate con­trol,” says GOP poll­ster Whit Ayres.

In 2008, when Demo­crats won their Sen­ate seats in those sev­en states, whites without a col­lege de­gree cast at least half the votes in four of them (Arkan­sas, Montana, South Dakota, and West Vir­gin­ia) and about two-fifths in Alaska and Louisi­ana. Whites older than 45 rep­res­en­ted about half or more of the elect­or­ate in those first four states, and around two-fifths in Alaska and North Car­o­lina.

While George W. Bush’s un­pop­ular­ity boos­ted Demo­crats in these states last time, the cur­rent has re­versed. In a re­cent Gal­lup sur­vey, non­col­lege whites were al­most four times as likely to say the health care law was hurt­ing as help­ing their fam­ily. Polls con­sist­ently place Obama’s ap­prov­al rat­ing with both blue-col­lar and older whites around 30 per­cent.

That’s left these red-state Demo­crats with al­most noth­ing from the Obama re­cord they can run on, ac­know­ledges Celinda Lake, the poll­ster for the reelec­tion cam­paign of Sen. Mark Be­gich, D-Alaska. To sur­vive, she says, these Demo­crats must de­fend So­cial Se­cur­ity and Medi­care (pri­or­it­ies for their older elect­or­ates), ex­pand the eco­nom­ic agenda from the min­im­um wage to jobs and the middle-class squeeze, turn out as much of the new co­ali­tion as pos­sible, and show “that they took on the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion” to de­fend their states.

But giv­en the tower­ing ali­en­a­tion from Obama among older and blue-col­lar whites, even that likely won’t pre­vent big Re­pub­lic­an gains in these sev­en seats. The long-term trend is for each party to con­trol more of the Sen­ate (and House) seats in the places that sup­port them for pres­id­ent. Even if a pop­u­lar in­cum­bent (like Louisi­ana’s Mary Landrieu) can sur­vive for an­oth­er term, fur­ther GOP gains in these cul­tur­ally con­ser­vat­ive states ap­pear guar­an­teed as the Demo­crats’ na­tion­al agenda in­ev­it­ably re­flects the left-lean­ing pri­or­it­ies (such as gay mar­riage and cli­mate-change reg­u­la­tion) of its new pres­id­en­tial co­ali­tion.

That dy­nam­ic will pres­sure Demo­crats to max­im­ize their Sen­ate gains in ra­cially di­verse states, like Nevada and North Car­o­lina, that are now closely bal­anced between the parties — and to bring in­to play oth­er di­ver­si­fy­ing places that today tilt safely Re­pub­lic­an. In com­ing years, the route to any Demo­crat­ic Sen­ate ma­jor­ity may be to trade gains in Geor­gia (where Michelle Nunn gives the party a com­pet­it­ive shot this year), Ari­zona, and even­tu­ally Texas for losses in West Vir­gin­ia or South Dakota. “There is a demo­graph­ic re­align­ment go­ing on,” Lake says, “that is go­ing to change which states are in play for which side.” The tremors from that wrench­ing change will rumble for years — and could rattle the Demo­crats’ hold on the Sen­ate this fall.

What We're Following See More »
SANS PROOF
NRA Chief: Leftist Protesters Are Paid
1 days ago
UPDATE
NEW TRAVEL BAN COMING SOON
Trump Still on Campaign Rhetoric
1 days ago
UPDATE
“WE’RE CHANGING IT”
Trump Rails On Obamacare
1 days ago
UPDATE

After spending a few minutes re-litigating the Democratic primary, Donald Trump turned his focus to Obamacare. “I inherited a mess, believe me. We also inherited a failed healthcare law that threatens our medical system with absolute and total catastrophe” he said. “I’ve been watching and nobody says it, but Obamacare doesn’t work.” He finished, "so we're going to repeal and replace Obamacare."

FAKE NEWS
Trump Goes After The Media
1 days ago
UPDATE

Donald Trump lobbed his first attack at the “dishonest media” about a minute into his speech, saying that the media would not appropriately cover the standing ovation that he received. “We are fighting the fake news,” he said, before doubling down on his previous claim that the press is “the enemy of the people." However, he made a distinction, saying that he doesn't think all media is the enemy, just the "fake news."

FBI TURNED DOWN REQUEST
Report: Trump Asked FBI to Deny Russia Stories
1 days ago
THE LATEST

"The FBI rejected a recent White House request to publicly knock down media reports about communications between Donald Trump's associates and Russians known to US intelligence during the 2016 presidential campaign, multiple US officials briefed on the matter tell CNN. But a White House official said late Thursday that the request was only made after the FBI indicated to the White House it did not believe the reporting to be accurate."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login