To an exhausted electorate, the final midterms of the Obama presidency are failing to drive much mainstream excitement, and no clear national themes have emerged despite the high-stakes fight for the Senate. DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz essentially admitted as much when she dismissed the idea of Democrats running on any national message, seeking instead to focus on local themes.
It’s hard to spin this a sign of strength. The fact is that Democrats have drawn a bad hand for the Senate races this cycle. They’re set to lose open seats in three states Mitt Romney won easily—South Dakota, West Virginia, and Montana—and they’re defending vulnerable Democratic incumbents in red states like Louisiana, Arkansas, Alaska, and North Carolina. As for the House, the rigged system of redistricting essentially guarantees that it will remain in Republican hands until after the census of 2020.
But don’t believe the hype about 2014 being a Republican wave election. Something more complex is going on. Democrats are doing much better than they have a right to expect in the South, especially with family brand names like Landrieu and Pryor. Mitch McConnell even has an improbably tight race on his hands in Kentucky against Alison Lundergan Grimes.
More to the point, Democrat Kay Hagan looks strong in North Carolina, where the Tea Party wave of 2010 brought otherwise unified Republican control to this increasingly purple swing state. The state legislative excesses have been bad enough that GOP Governor Pat McCrory, the former mayor of Charlotte, found himself described as a “moderate among Wingnuts” by The Economist, which detailed his travails this way: “Unlike the pragmatic conservatives who have long dominated state politics, the Republicans now in charge are culture warriors…The governor found himself passing laws to ban sharia (Islamic law), restrict abortion and introduce strict voter-identification rules, which are being challenged by the federal government.”
Here’s where a slumbering national theme for 2014 starts to come into sharper relief. This year represents the first time local voters have been able to weigh in on the statewide elected officials who rode the Tea Party wave to victory in 2010. So while the Senate sucks up all the oxygen, the governors’ races might really reflect the mood of the electorate more accurately.
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