2014 Midterms Recap: What You Need to Know

Obama and leadership
It remains to be seen what sort of compromises Boehner, Obama, Reid, and McConnell will be able to work out in the next two years. Source: Larry Downing/Reuters

Though one of the biggest stories from the midterm election results on Tuesday was the Republicans gaining control of the Senate, there were other significant stories as well.

Not only were pollsters incorrect in predicting how close certain Senate races would be, many of the gubernatorial races went the way of the Republicans as well and they were not close. Democrats lost the governor’s seat in the usually Democratic stronghold of Maryland, where Larry Hogan won as Democrats were tied to unpopular current Governor Martin O’Malley, who was widely seen as not having done enough for the state’s economic growth. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, both long-time targets of labor unions, also held onto their seats. This may give Walker a leg up if he decides to run for President in 2016. Democrats also lost the governorship in President Obama’s home state Illinois and suffered a tough loss in Maine, where Hillary Clinton campaigned hard for Democrat Mike Michaud, who was looking to become the first openly gay governor in US history.

There were also many important ballot measures that passed. Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota, all states that lean to the right, voted to increase the minimum wage, showing that there is support for wage hikes across the country no matter what those states’ politicians vote for. Other progressive measures that passed included marijuana legalization in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington D.C., though it failed in Florida, where it had to receive 60% of the vote instead of a simple majority. In Washington, gun control restrictions that approved background checks for all gun sales, effectively closing the gun show and online loopholes, overwhelmingly passed. California passed Prop 47, which makes nonviolent drug and property crimes a misdemeanor instead of a felony and is estimated to cut sentences for one in five prisoners. North Dakota and Colorado rejected “personhood” amendments that opponents argued would effectively make abortion illegal in their states, though Tennessee passed an amendment stating that the state Constitution does not protect the right to have an abortion. All in all, it was not a bad night for progressives.

Though the Republicans took over control of the Senate, the outlook for the next Congress is yet to be determined. President Obama came out swinging in his first speech after the elections, not only by commenting on the low turnout, but also by stating that he would pursue more executive action in regards to immigration reform if Congress did not send him a bill he could sign. Newly crowned Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell stated that it would be like “waving a red flag in front of bull” were Obama to pursue any executive action and simply said that there’s “a possibility” that immigration reform could be pushed through the Senate, along with tax reform and trade agreements. This seems even more unlikely in the House, where the new Republicans in John Boehner’s caucus are even more conservative and have given no indication that they will sign onto any compromises with the Senate. Neither spoke about the Affordable Care Act’s fate, which could be determined by the Supreme Court, but also by Congress if they decide to repeal the law itself.

Though Republicans gained and retained seats in many of the close races, the good news for Democrats is that a variety of progressive measures were passed. However, the fight looks to be on between Obama and Congress, and it remains to be seen how much will get done in the race to 2016.