We don’t affect national politics

Published 5:19 pm Tuesday, October 21, 2014

We are not indicative of or really even a part of the national political equation. The Heart of Dixie is an integral part of the heart and soul of the Republican Party. We and our fellow Deep South sister states are such reliably Republican red states that we are essentially ignored in national elections.

It is a foregone conclusion that our delegation in Washington will remain six Republicans and one lone Democrat. Our two senators are also Republican. One of our senators, Jeff Sessions, is waltzing to his fourth six-year term unopposed. In fact, Sessions did not even have a GOP primary opponent.

However, even though we are a GOP ritualistic hinterland, this does not mean that the rest of the country is not embroiled in a pivotal midterm election.
The midterm national elections carry a lot of clout, especially this year.

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Currently, the U.S. House of Representatives has a small Republican majority and the U.S. Senate has a slim Democratic majority. This year’s results may not only transform Congress but will affect the politics of the nation significantly.

Indications are that the Republicans will keep their majority in the House. However, the story of the year may be that the GOP wins control of the U.S. Senate. This sea change is possible and a good many Washington insiders are saying it is probable.

The reasons are obvious. First, there are simply more Democratic senators retiring and thus more open swing states in play. The second reason is that the Republicans may pick off two Democratic senators in the south.
Senators Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina are vulnerable. Both Landrieu and Hagan voted for Obamacare. Obama and his Affordable Care Act are immensely unpopular in the South. Hagan narrowly defeated Republican Elizabeth Dole in 2010. She won a razor-thin victory with the help of an overwhelming African-American turnout for Obama in the Tar Heel State. Those voters generally do not turn out in non-presidential years. In fact, the total percentage of voters who will turn out nationwide will be around 40 percent. This is markedly different than the typical 60 percent turnout in presidential years.

This midterm turnout differentiation is another advantage for a GOP coup of the Senate. More affluent voters vote in every election. Low income and minority voters tend to vote in only high profile presidential elections.
The final and maybe most determining factor is that for some inexplicable reason there is a historic certainty that the Party that has the White House always loses seats in Congress in the off year midterm congressional elections. This historic precedent is real. The streak has not been deterred in modern times. In fact, it is more pronounced when a sitting president is in his second term. These midterm swings in partisan change also tend to make dramatic changes in public policy and national politics.

In Ike Eisenhower’s second term, Democrats elected 13 new liberal Democratic senators. The GOP also lost 47 seats in the 1958 elections. This Democratic victory set the stage for the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Conversely, the effects of the 1994 midterm elections during Bill Clinton’s second term ushered in a conservative revolution. This Newt Gingrich-led GOP takeover changed American congressional action for over a decade.

The tea leaves are very similar to other historic midterm congressional changes. This year it is even more likely with Obama’s approval rating sitting at a new low of 41 percent. The GOP is looking to pick up seats in Alaska, Colorado and maybe Arkansas, as well as the two aforementioned seats in Louisiana and North Carolina.

The Democrats are hoping to stem the tide next door in Georgia. There is an open seat in our sister state to the east. Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss is retiring. The Democrats have fielded a candidate with a popular name. Former Senator Sam Nunn’s daughter, Michelle Nunn, is the Democratic candidate. She is hoping to parlay her father’s strength in rural Georgia into victory against GOP nominee David Perdue.

Nunn’s hopes are also buoyed by the fact that the burgeoning growth of Atlanta has made the Peach State more cosmopolitan and diverse than the rest of the South. Atlanta has a sizeable gay population and the state has the highest African-American percentage population in the nation. These trends portend that Georgia will move from a red state to a swing state by 2030, but probably not this year.

In the meantime, none of this will affect our state politics this year. The only similarity will be an extremely low voter turnout because there is no challenge to the GOP in the Heart of Dixie.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in more than 70 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.