It’s a historic day in Washington, D.C.
The national level winners of the 2014 election were sworn into office today completing the overwhelming Republican triumph in the most recent election and crystallizing the ugly wipeout for Democrats, whose base simply stood down rather than fight the inevitable 2014 GOP tidal wave.
In the Senate, the GOP needed to hold all of their seats and gain at least 6 Democratic seats for a majority. They successfully held all their seats and flipped 8 Democratic seats, winning every toss up race except New Hampshire.
In the House, Republicans picked up 13 additional seats to increase their majority to 247-188, winning 15 of the 24 true toss up races, and stealing 3 races Democrats were expected to win. The new GOP majority will give the party its largest majority in the House since January 1931.
In governor’s races, Republicans added two states to their already impressive stockpile, now controlling the executive branch in 31 states (really more like 32 since Bill Walker is a Republican governing as an independent in Alaska).
With all this good news for Republicans and their new majority in the Senate, let’s begin 2015 remembering a couple key points of U.S. history. While the GOP’s 247-188 House majority sounds impressive, it is far from the largest majority a party has held. Since 1913, when the House expanded to 435 members, there have been 4 instances in which the majority party had 300+ seats, and 26 times where the gap between the majority party and the minority party was larger than what it will be in the 114th Congress. As recently as January 2011, Democrats had 257 House members.
On the other hand, many Democrats comforted themselves late last year with the idea that they will easily take back the Senate in 2016, during a presidential election year. However, since 1960, when a majority party in the Senate enters an election year with fewer than 55 seats, they maintain control in the next election about 70 percent of the time. The Senate has only changed hands 6 times since 1960 and half of the time the majority party who lost had 55+ seats, which means that the Senate rarely changes hands and the gap between the majority and minority party is rarely relevant in determining the likelihood of a flip. Democrats can win back the Senate if they earn it, but just because the map looks good, doesn’t mean they can overlook the need for very strong candidates and equally strong narratives.
One under-rated factor that will help Republicans is their dominance in state legislatures across the country. The GOP holds a majority in 36 state senates and 34 state houses. Many of those are super majorities. Some are unexpected such as Republicans winning a majority in both houses of the Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Hampshire, Nevada, Wisconsin and Ohio state legislatures and winning a majority in the Maine State Senate, Minnesota House, New Mexico House and New York Senate.
State legislatures and governor’s mansions are the proving ground for many future national political leaders and those offices often serve as a minor league system for future U.S. House Reps, U.S. Senators and future Presidents along with cabinet level secretaries. The GOP bench is stacked with talent, many of whom are now in their third, fourth and fifth term in state legislative office or have been successfully re-elected to their governorship or other statewide elected office. Meanwhile, multiple years of Democratic failures at the state level have decimated their ranks of fresh, young, up and coming politicians with experience in elected office and a proven track record of winning elections. Democrats aren’t going away; but, their recovery will require more attention to the state legislatures, where their national brand of economic liberalism won’t find many sympathetic ears.
The tough task of governing now lies ahead for the elected class of 2015 and the 114th U.S. Congress. As Republicans, today is our last day to relish in the monumental 2014 victories on the national level…but here in Illinois, we have one more party to throw next Monday as we inaugurate our state’s 42nd governor, the first Republican to hold the office in 12 years.
So here’s one last thank you to all the Republican voters, candidates, campaign staffs and volunteers who made the 2014 victories possible and a tip of the cap to all those Democrats who couldn’t bring themselves to vote with the GOP; but, gave our party permission to govern by standing down on Election Day 2014.
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