Republicans gained a substantial majority in the U.S. Senate.
Republicans won eight formerly-Democratic held seats by defeating four incumbents and winning four open seats. They also retained all three “at-risk” Republican Senate seats (Georgia, Kansas, and Kentucky). (See below for a breakdown of the Senate elections.) The biggest surprise was the razor-thin Senate race in Virginia where incumbent Democrat Mark Warner held on to a narrow lead over Republican Ed Gillespie.
The U.S. House of Representatives retained a substantial Republican majority. The GOP reached their largest majority since 1931, when Herbert Hoover was president. Some Democratic Party leaders worry that they could be locked out of the House majority until the next round of redistricting in the 2020s.
In gubernatorial races, incumbent Republicans in Wisconsin (Scott Walker), Michigan (Rick Snyder), Ohio (John Kasich), Florida (Rick Scott), Kansas (Sam Brownback), and Georgia (Nathan Deal) were reelected, with Deal defeating Jason Carter, grandson of former President Jimmy Carter. In Wisconsin, in a setback for organized labor, overwhelming union opposition failed for a third time to unseat Governor Scott Walker—in 2010, in a 2012 recall vote, and now in Walker’s 2014 reelection—whom they considered the nation’s most blatantly anti-union governor in a historically pro-union state. In the closely-watched race in Florida, incumbent Republican Governor Scott narrowly defeated former Governor Charlie Crist running as a Democrat. The biggest surprise was Republican Larry Hogan’s victory over Democrat Anthony Brown in predictably blue state Maryland. No one saw that coming.
What Do These Election Results Mean?
First, the election results mean the start of the 2016 presidential campaign. Leading potential candidates from both parties were omnipresent on the stump in the 2014 mid-term elections, especially in early presidential election-year states such as Iowa and New Hampshire. If you are fed up with this year’s political campaigns, get ready for 2016. In fact, since there will be more incumbent Republicans up for reelection in 2016 (just the reverse of this year), congressional majorities will once again be at stake, especially where voter turnout will be much higher with the White House at stake.
Second, the election results could redirect congressional attention to economic issues, which voters overwhelmingly proclaimed as their top concern. This could mean passage of legislation where both parties are able to make concessions, without compromising principles, on issues such as tax reform, infrastructure, the Keystone XL pipeline, and trade policy. Also, look for votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or at least to “fix” it.
However, other than possibly passing multi-employer pension plan reform and some form of immigration legislation, do not expect passage of major labor and employment legislation. Organized labor was the biggest loser in the mid-term elections. The result may also mean the start of debate on Republican proposals for major labor law reform.
Third, it means there will be more presidential executive orders, starting with immigration reform and climate change, as well as federal regulations where the administration cannot achieve its agenda through Congress.
Fourth, now that Republicans in both houses can set the congressional agenda and will have subpoena powers, it means much more aggressive oversight of agency actions at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). It also could trigger possible appropriations riders to prohibit or restrict funding to enforce certain regulations, such as the imminent NLRB “ambush election rules” and the Labor Department’s regulatory overhaul of the Fair Labor Standards Act’s Part 541 overtime exemptions for bona fide executive, administrative, professional, outside sales, and computer employees.
Fifth, with a Senate majority, it means much greater scrutiny of White House judicial and federal agency nominations, even in the face of the Senate’s “nuclear option,” which removed Senate filibusters. The Republican Senate majority will try to stop nominations of progressive judicial candidates to the federal courts of appeals.
Sixth, unions took it on the chin across the country, especially in gubernatorial races. In August, the AFL- CIO said it would take out six key anti-union governors: Rick Scott of Florida, Rick Snyder of Michigan, Paul LePage of Maine, John Kasich of Ohio, Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania. Only Corbett was defeated.
The reelections of embattled incumbent governors in blue states such as Wisconsin, in Governor Scott Walker’s race, and Michigan, in Governor Rick Snyder’s race, who faced the furies of an all-out union assault, will embolden other governors to take on public sector unions. There may even be an effort to pass a right-to-work law in Kentucky.
Finally, Republicans proved that primary elections are important in selecting qualified candidates. Now, having been elected, Republicans have two years to prove they can govern before facing a much more challenging 2016 election–when it will no longer be enough simply to attack a lame duck president.
To be continued.
Author Martin Milita, a Senior Director at Duane Morris Government Strategies, is a member of the New Jersey and Pennsylvania Bars and has lobbied state and federally and in Canada.
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