Politics of the United States

Top 5 Senate Races Where Dark Money and Outside Spending Ran Wild

Half a billion dollars was spent on U.S. Senate races this year, making this cycle the most expensive midterm campaign ever.

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This article has been corrected. G et ready for a week of pundits making claims of just what was proven by the results of the 2014 midterm elections. But one thing is already quite clear: Money is indeed a deciding factor. Half a billion dollars was spent on U.S. Senate races this year, making this cycle the most expensive midterm campaign ever. Much of that money was used by non-profit issue groups for what is known as “outside spending”—meaning money used for advertising and other forms of communication ostensibly to support an issue, but most often an issue that is framed in such a way to lend support to the group’s favored candidate. (These are the ads that often say something like: “Call Senator X and tell him to stop [supporting some allegedly terrible thing].") The 2014 cycle also shows how effectively outside spending groups can sway elections: When conservative groups outspend liberal groups (and sometimes even when they don’t), conservative candidates win. North Carolina,...

The Democrats' Catastrophe and the Need For a New Agenda

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, joined by his wife, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, celebrates with his supporters at an election night party in Louisville,Tuesday, November 4, 2014. McConnell won a sixth term in Washington, with his eyes on the larger prize of GOP control of the Senate. The Kentucky Senate race, with McConnell, a 30-year incumbent, fighting off a spirited challenge from Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, has been among the most combative and closely watched contests that could determine the balance of power in Congress. D emocrats had ample reason to fear that this year’s midterm elections would not go well for them, but bad doesn’t begin to describe what happened to them—and the nation—yesterday. Catastrophic is more like it. Democrats didn’t just lose the Senate; they lost statehouse after statehouse. They didn’t just lose the red states; they lost the purple and the blue. They lost the governorships of Maryland...

Democrats Cede Advantage to GOP By Failing to Embrace Pocketbook Populism

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) In Kentucky's combative Senate race, Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes makes an appeal at a campaign rally, Saturday, November 1, 2014, at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky. The results of the closely watched Kentucky contest will be crucial in the midterm election that could shift the balance of power in Congress. W hy are Democrats on the verge of an avoidable mid-term disaster? Some of the reasons include the six-year jinx, in which the president’s party normally loses congressional seats. Some of it is luck of the draw in terms of who is running, with less than stellar candidates such as Bruce Braley in Iowa and Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky. And some if it reflects an electorate turning against an incumbent president who is hunkered down rather than fighting back. Yet that set of alibis lets the Democrats off the hook far too easily. There is a huge amount of unfocused anger and frustration in America, much of it around...

David Brooks: Wrong On the Effects of Microtargeting, Wrong For America

Flickr/ljlphotography
I stopped reading David Brooks a while ago, when he decided it was his mission not to provide thoughtful commentary on current events but instead to produce one column after another that read like the Cliff Notes for a high school "character education" class. But his column today is worthy of comment, because it gets at something that I've been thinking about for a while, raises an important issue about how campaigns are conducted today, and still manages to be utterly wrong. As we all know, campaigns have become increasingly sophisticated at targeting voters. Back in the stone age when I worked on campaigns, they had little more information to work with than what was on your voter registration card. They knew your age, your gender, your address, and a couple of other data points, and with some creativity they could infer other things about you (for instance, one campaign I worked on sent a mailer about gay issues to any household with two people over 30 of the same gender living...

Can Green Party Candidate Howie Hawkins Make Cuomo Oppose Fracking?

He's certainly made it an issue. But progressives are divided on whether his gubernatorial bid could harm the Working Families Party.

(AP Photo/The Buffalo News, Dererk Gee)
(AP Photo/The Buffalo News, Dererk Gee) New York gubernatorial candidates, from left, Rob Astorino, Govornor Andrew Cuomo and Howie Hawkins participate in a debate sponsored by The Buffalo News and WNED-WBFO at WNED Studios in Buffalo, New York, Wednesday, October 22, 2014. A s voters in New York head to the polls today, there is little doubt who the state’s next governor will be. With a 20-point lead over Republican challenger Rob Astorino, incumbent Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, will slide comfortably into another term. Given the circumstances, it’d be easy to overlook Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins. But the 61-year-old UPS truck unloader and member of the Teamsters union is polling unusually high for a third-party candidate. According to the latest polls, he stands to garner nearly 10 percent of today’s vote; the last time Hawkins ran for governor in 2010, he pulled in about 1 percent. Hawkins’s performance is partly due to the significant number of progressives casting protest...

GOP's Neo-Confederate Theocrat Wins Council Seat in One of Richest U.S. Counties

Voters were looking for something new when they elected Michael Peroutka to run as a Republican for a seat on Maryland's Anne Arundel County Council. What they got was something very old—like ante bellum kind of old.

(AP Photo/Kevin Rivoli)
(AP Photo/Kevin Rivoli) Michael A. Peroutka, the one-time presidential candidate of the theocratic Constitution Party, in a debate between third-party presidential hopefuls at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, Wednesday, October 6, 2004. UPDATE, November 5, 2014 --The subject of this article, Michael Anthony Peroutka, running as a Republican, won a seat on the Anne Arundel County Council in the November 4 election, beating his opponent, by nearly 1,900 votes, according to the Baltimore Sun . The Baltimore Sun O n November 4, 2011, standing on a small stage with Bible verses splashed on the background behind him, Michael Peroutka told a small audience attending his lecture that “when you see and hear folks describe the earth as millions of years old, you know that they are either willfully anti-American, or they are ignorant of their own heritage and history. What I am saying is that the promotion of evolution is an act of disloyalty to America.” Three years later, on November 4...

Why Republicans Have Gotten Away With Craziness This Year

Just a couple of people with non-crazy ideas. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
We don't know if Joni Ernst is going to be the next Senator from Iowa, but one thing we can say is that Democrats failed to paint her as a radical Tea Partier with dangerous ideas. (Actually, there's another thing we can say: her replacing liberal lion Tom Harkin would have to be the widest ideological swing in a Senate seat from one Congress to the next in a long time.) The question is, why? And more broadly, why have they failed to do that with any of the GOP Senate candidates running this year? It's not like this is a bunch of moderates. One explanation is that the establishment triumphed by weeding out the nutcases : National Republicans managed this year to snuff out every bomb-throwing insurgent who tried to wrest a Senate nod away from one of their favored candidates. They spent millions against baggage-laden activists such as Matt Bevin, the Louisville investor who mounted a ham-fisted challenge to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Mississippi state Sen. Chris...

What We Talk About When We Talk About a Republican Senate

Presuming we have a Republican Congress next year, there's going to be a lot of talk right after the election about what that will change 1) politically and 2) substantively. While I'm ordinarily an advocate of more substantive discussion and less political discussion (not that I have a problem with political discussion, since I do plenty of it myself, it's just that it should be leavened with consideration of the things that actually matter), there's a potential problem in the substantive discussion that I think we should be on the lookout for. For instance, this morning on the radio I heard some energy expert whose name I didn't catch say that if Republicans take over the Senate, we're likely to see the government shift its focus toward fossil fuels and away from renewables. Which sounds perfectly logical until you ask how such a shift is supposed to take place. This is what is often missing from policy discussion: enough acknowledgment of the institutional processes that determine...

Red State, Blue State: Polarization and the American Situation

The country is stuck but it is not stationary. Some things are changing—just not at the federal level.

(Map: Angr/Wikimedia Commons; Flag: AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
(AP Photo/David J. Phillip) A racing fan waves an American flag as they wait for the Formula One U.S. Grand Prix auto race at the Circuit of the Americas, Sunday, November 2, 2014, in Austin, Texas. This article appears under the title "The American Situation" in the Fall 2014 issue of The American Prospect magazine. A merica, it seems, is stuck—unable to make significant progress on critical issues such as climate change, rising economic inequality, and immigration. To explain that inaction, people often point to political polarization. Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, are now so sharply opposed to each other that they are unable to find common ground. But while the country is stuck, it is not stationary. Some things are changing; it’s just not at the federal level that the changes are emerging. Polarization leads to stalemate only under certain circumstances—when the two sides in a conflict are closely balanced, and political institutions and procedures (such...

Electing Judges Is Insane

This guy never had to run for reelection. Plus he brings his own gift bag. (Flickr/Nathan Rupert)
With a couple of minor exceptions, like a few local judgeships in Switzerland, the United States is the only country where judges are elected. Indeed, to the rest of the world, the idea of judges running for office—begging for money, airing attack ads against their opponents, thinking always about their next election even after they take the bench—is positively insane. And they're right. We've had elected judgeships for our entire history, but until the last few years, those elections were nothing like races for Congress or governorships. But those days are past—now not only are judges acting like politicians, outside groups (yes, including the Koch brothers) are pouring money into judicial races to produce courts more to their liking. And when you make judicial elections more partisan, you get more partisan judges, like one Judith French, a member of the Ohio Supreme Court who is running to retain her seat : At a Saturday event at which she introduced Republican Gov. John Kasich,...

Are GOP Donors Going to Get Anything In Return For Their Millions?

Oh please. Who are you kidding? (Flickr/Danny Huizinga)
If you're a liberal zillionaire who contributed lots of money this year to prevent a Republican takeover of the Senate, on Tuesday you're probably going to be pretty unhappy. Which is why, Ken Vogel of Politico reports , the people who run the groups through which all those millions are being channeled are rushing to reassure their donors that it was still money well spent. Which got me thinking about the conservative donors who are probably going to be celebrating next week. For some of them, Republican victories are an end in themselves, but others have a more specific agenda in mind. They help Republicans get elected because they expect something in return. To be clear, I'm not talking about quasi-legal bribery. If you're an oil company or a Wall Street firm, you donate to Republicans not so that they'll be forced to do what you want whether they like it or not, but because you know they like it quite well. Republicans want, deep in their hearts, to cut taxes and slash regulations...

They're All Randians Now

Evidence of the GOP's moral hardening.
In public opinion, the battle over the Affordable Care Act has come to a stalemate. Depending on how you ask the question, a majority of the public disapproves of the law, but a majority also doesn't agree with Republicans that it should be repealed. On the simple approval question, poll results look just about the same as they did five years ago, which is remarkable given all the fighting over it and everything that has happened, good and bad, in its implementation. But there's something remarkable in this new article in the New England Journal of Medicine that we really need to take notice of, because it represents a significant shift in how some Americans think about health care: Over the past decade, there has been a cultural shift in Americans' attitudes about the principle of universal health care coverage, one of the main rationales for the ACA. In 2007, during the presidential primary season, public support for the view that the federal government has a responsibility to make...

Which Southern State Is Feeling the Brunt of Big Money Election Spending?

It's not just North Carolina.

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Retired teacher Blaine Heslett and his son Caleb, 15, right, listen as Lee Greenwood delivers his song "God Bless the USA", at a rally for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, in Cadiz at the Scott Jolly Farm, Tuesday, October 28, 2014. McConnell is campaigning during the final week before the crucial midterm election that could shift the balance of power in Congress. This article originally appeared on Facing South , the website published by the Institute for Southern Studies. D emocratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan's bid to defend her seat against Republican challenger Thom Tillis is shaping up to be one of the most expensive U.S. Senate races in history: a flood of more than $103 million in spending from the campaigns and outside groups, according to The Charlotte Observer. This month, the spending spree has translated into about three TV ads every five minutes supporting—or, more frequently, attacking — one of the North Carolina candidates...

No Love for Obama as Election Day Approaches

Official White House photo by Pete Souza
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza I f Republicans win a significant victory in next Tuesday's election—and it now looks like they will indeed take the Senate—get ready for a whole lot of Obama-bashing, not only from the press and Republicans, but from liberals, as well. Some will go so far as to declare his presidency over, and I suspect more than a few genuine leftists will heap scorn on their liberal friends for their naïve embrace of a politician promising (as politicians always do) to change Washington. We can see one variant of this critique, the Jimmy Carter comparison, in a piece by Thomas Frank , based on an interview he conducted with historian Rick Perlstein: The moral of this story is not directed at Democratic politicians; it is meant for us, the liberal rank and file. We still "yearn to believe," as Perlstein says. There is something about the Carter/Obama personality that appeals to us in a deep, unspoken way, and that has led Democrats to fall for a whole string...

Have Republicans Found a Way to Insure Poor People and Still Hate Barack Obama?

Flickr/David Mason
At the risk of being overly optimistic, I think we may have reached a tipping point on Medicaid expansion, where it will soon become completely acceptable for Republican states to accept it, insure their poor citizens, and reap the economic and social benefits despite the taint of Obamacare. I'm not saying there won't be holdouts, because there will be. But something is changing. I'll explain why in a moment, but first, the quick background. (Skip this paragraph if you know all this.) When the Supreme Court decided in 2012 that states could opt out of the expansion of Medicaid included in the Affordable Care Act, some health-care wonks said we shouldn't worry. The expansion was so generous—with the federal government picking up 100 percent of the cost at first, then ratcheting down to 90 percent of the cost over a few years—that it would be insane for any state to turn the money down. In fact, the most conservative states had the most to gain, since their Medicaid eligibility levels...

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