Three Election Trends That Could End in 2014
October 7, 2014 · 10:20 AM EDT
I’m not certain how long a trend has to exist before it earns the status of an immutable political “law,” but three longtime truths are threatened this election cycle. Will all of them fall in November?
Trend #1: One party holds the Pennsylvania governorship for eight years and then loses the office to the other party.
You need to go back to World War II to find a time when Pennsylvania didn’t alternate its top elected office between the two major parties every eight years.
But this year, that iron law of Pennsylvania gubernatorial elections is almost certain to end. While the election is still more than a month away, it’s abundantly clear that voters in the commonwealth are about to fire Gov. Tom Corbett after a single term, sending Democrat Tom Wolf to Harrisburg to assume the governorship.
Wolf, a York County businessman, spent personal money early to run an effective media campaign and annihilated three established Democratic political figures to become his party’s nominee.
Both Democratic and Republican surveys show Wolf holding a double-digit lead, a surprising development to students of Pennsylvania political history. One recent automated GOP poll, by Harper Polling, showed Corbett and Wolf running about even in both the very Republican central part of the state and the GOP-leaning western third of the state.
No Republican nominee has a chance of carrying the state preforming that way in those two areas of the state. (The Rothenberg Political Report rates the race as Democrat Favored.)
Chances that the eight-year trend will come to an end: slam dunk. The Pennsylvania governor’s race is over and the two-term trend is about to be broken.
Trend #2: No Democrat has been elected to the Senate from Kansas since George McGill in 1932.
McGill, who won a special election in 1930 and squeezed out one re-election victory before being dumped by Kansas voters, is one of only two Democrats to win a Senate election in Kansas since the popular election of senators.
This year, given the state’s strong partisan bent, President Barack Obama’s problems and the midterm dynamic, incumbent Republican Pat Roberts, 78, should be coasting to re-election. After all, he has never won by fewer than 20 points.
But a shaky primary campaign and the revelation that the senator doesn’t actually live in Kansas produced a weak 48 percent showing for Roberts in the GOP primary and now has Democrats salivating about an upset.
Against a weak Democratic challenger, Roberts’ warts probably wouldn’t matter. But this time, Democrats have rallied around an independent candidate, businessman Greg Orman.
Orman, who has personal resources, has been a Democrat (and a Republican) in the past, and he refuses to say which party he’ll caucus with if his decision is decisive. Republicans seem to have little doubt that he will side with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s party.
Orman’s independent bid (with no Democrat on the ballot) and anti-Washington message change the normal partisan dynamic in Kansas, where Republican Gov. Sam Brownback is fighting for his own political life. (The Rothenberg Political Report changed its rating of this race to Tossup.)
Luckily, Republicans have time to change the trajectory of the Senate race before November. The senator apparently understands that he needs to define Orman and make the race about Obama to take advantage of Kansas’s strong Republican bent. But it’s not yet clear whether Roberts will be able to do that.
Chances that a Democrat will win in Kansas for the first time since 1932: Zero. Chances that the GOP nominee won’t be elected in Kansas for the first time since 1932: Pretty close to even money.
Trend #3: Republicans have never elected an openly gay, non-incumbent member of Congress to the House.
Let’s be clear: Republicans re-nominated and re-elected Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., five times after he acknowledged he was gay, and Rep. Steve Gunderson, R-Wis., won re-election in 1994 after it became public knowledge that he was gay.
But this year, two gay Republicans have a chance to break the historical trend.
Massachusetts Republican Richard Tisei, a former member of the Massachusetts state Senate who narrowly lost his bid for Congress two years ago, and California Republican Carl DeMaio, who served on the San Diego City Council and narrowly lost a bid for mayor in 2012, are both in competitive races this year. One or both could win.
Tisei’s prospects were hurt when incumbent Democratic Rep. John F. Tierney lost his bid for re-election to primary challenger Seth Moulton. The district is among the state’s most competitive, but the Republican won’t have the advantage of running against a damaged incumbent. (The Rothenberg Political Report rates the race as Tilts Democratic.)
DeMaio is in a contest against freshman Democrat Scott Peters, who argues that he is a political moderate and has some support from the business community. (The Rothenberg Political Report rates the race as Tossup.)
Chances that either Tisei or DeMaio win in November: 50/50.
At least one of these three trends is about to come to an end. But we won’t likely know about the other two until much closer to Election Day, or maybe well after the polls have closed.