The 2014 elections aren’t just a should-win nationally for the Republican Party. They’re almost a must-win.
The party, which controls the U.S. House and needs six seats to retake the Senate, has everything moving in its direction this year. The Obamacare rollout has been a mess, so the public will be receptive to the party that preaches less government, even if it often doesn’t practice it. Because this is a nonpresidential election, turnout will be lower and will include fewer of the young people who elected President Obama in 2012.
The simple electoral math favors the GOP. Of the 35 contested U.S. Senate seats, 21 are held by Democrats, so that party has more to defend. Seven of those 21 seats are in states won by Mitt Romney in 2012. Arkansas is one of those. You may have heard. Republicans must defend only one state, Maine, won by President Obama that year.
Historically, second-term midterm elections are bad ones for the president’s party. In fact, the 1998 midterms under President Clinton have been the only elections since 1934 where the president’s party gained seats. In 2006 during President George W. Bush’s second term, Democrats won six seats to retake the Senate — exactly what Republicans need now — and retook the House, making Nancy Pelosi speaker.
So this year’s elections are a should-win for Republicans. They are a must-win partly because the numbers flip in 2016, when the party will defend 24 of the 34 Senate seats up for grabs. Seven of those Republican seats are in states won by Obama in 2012.
More importantly, the 2014 and 2016 elections represent a window of opportunity for Republicans to win and then prove they can govern effectively. If they fail to do so this time, that window might not be nearly as open in the coming decades.
The party, to echo the words of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is in danger of falling into a “demographic death spiral.” In a country where white people quickly are becoming a minority, the party has failed to attract many African-Americans and is losing ground with Latinos. It hasn’t crafted a message that appeals to today’s young people, who will become tomorrow’s voting majority.
Also, while “less government” is the GOP’s guiding principle, a lot of its voters are older Americans who benefit from huge government programs such as Social Security and Medicare. The country’s aging population will make it harder and harder for the party to actually do what it says it wants to do, which is reduce the size of government.
The next two elections will give the party the best chance it will have in a while to reverse its losing demographic direction. It would do this by showing voters it can reduce government spending and debt without ignoring the truly needy or bestowing too many government favors on the party’s big-shot benefactors.
Can the party actually do that? It didn’t the last time it had the chance. The first decade of the 2000s were Republican years. President George W. Bush occupied the White House from 2001-08. During the years when Republicans were either mostly or completely in charge, they grew government and added trillions of dollars in debt spending money at home and in costly nation-building exercises overseas.
For the GOP, it’s not now or never, but now is pretty important. The party is in danger of moving into long-term minority status. To keep that from happening, it must win when it should win, and that’s 2014.
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Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.