Tuesday was a good day to be on a Republican ticket and a bad day to be running as a Democrat, but the results are not catastrophic for Obama. In South Florida there is no long term appetite for extremes, but this week’s results demonstrate that the American people don’t like their leaders very much and have relished giving this one a good “shellacking”.
Dave Roberts has spent the last couple of weeks in South Florida, working on the (ill-fated, as it turns out) Democrat campaign; here he looks as what the midterms tell us about the state of US politics
Two years ago Barack Obama promised “change you could believe in”, but on Tuesday 3rd November, Americans voted for a different kind of change. A wave of anger swept across Florida and the rest of the US, sweeping Democrats out of office and replacing them with conservative Republicans.
Many of the congressional seats lost were marginal and had been won on anti-Bush sentiment in 2006, such as District 22 where I was campaigning. But the scale of Democrat losses demonstrates more than just mid-term blues.
The average loss since 1960 for incumbent presidents in their first term is 22.6 seats. And, while only George W Bush in 2002 and Franklin D Roosevelt in 1934 have managed to gain House seats, Obama managed to lose a whopping 63 seats.
While motivation among Democrats was low, quite the reverse was true for the Republicans. The Republican core was fired up by the angry, oppositional rhetoric of its leaders, supporters and the Tea Party Movement.
The flames were fanned by a struggling economy, nearly 10 per cent national unemployment – 12 per cent in Florida – and Obama’s perceived ultra-liberal agenda, encompassing healthcare reform and the government’s stimulus package. This angry tsunami pulled many moderates along in its wake and de-motivated Democrat-leaning independents.
Obama never successfully sold his reforms to the American electorate, an electorate that is naturally suspicious and often outright hostile to government programmes. He failed to remind people that his stimulus package included tax cuts for everyone as well as increased spending. His confidence in the stimulus proved to be overstated. He promised unemployment wouldn’t rise above 8 per cent; it reached 12 per cent nationally and has settled just below 10 per cent.
Furthermore, his public works programmes were not “shovel ready” as he had hoped, and he disappointed many liberal voters by keeping troops in Iraq, increasing the numbers in Afghanistan and keeping Guantanamo Bay open.
The Republicans swept the board across Florida, taking the Senate seat, the Governor’s mansion and a number of marginal, congressional districts. They also won the top jobs in the state legislature – the Attorney General and the Chief Financial Officer positions along with the Agriculture Commissioner. Florida is now an outright Republican state.
The Governor is now the political novice Rick Scott, a multi millionaire with some dubious history involving Medicare fraud. While the Democrat candidate Alex Sink ran Scott close – winning in south and urban central Florida – it was the struggling Florida economy, the Republican national wave and a campaign budget close to $100 million that saw Scott take the keys to the mansion.
Scott has been very light on policy detail but has promised to slash taxes and public spending, reform state education, scale back regulation and change state workers’ pensions. It’s a very traditional conservative agenda and one which is not that different to what we are seeing in the UK.
The Senate race was won by Marco Rubio, one of the new fresh faced and media savvy Republicans now heading for Washington. Rubio won a bizarre three-way race where his opponents included the Democrat candidate Kendrik Meek and former Republican Governor Charlie Crist standing as an Independent, with a combined campaign budget close to $40 million. Thanks to the spilt opposition, a campaign budget of his own in excess of £18 million and to a flair for grandiose rhetoric Rubio now becomes Florida’s second Cuban-American Senator.
Rubio has impeccable conservative credentials, is supported by the former Governor Jeb Bush and by Karl Rove. He has vowed to push for tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and favours raising the retirement age. As a Hispanic representing America’s largest battle ground state he becomes a potential king maker in the 2012 Presidential contest.
While there’s no doubt that America took a turn to the right on Tuesday, it would be wise not to write off Obama and the Democrats just yet. Obama will inevitably make concessions to the Republicans on tax, environmental regulations and spending. But he will also move away from domestic policy and focus more on international issues where he has a clear deck and the ability to use his talent for rhetoric to inspire hope and pride among Americans.
Obama may also benefit from Republicans beginning to fight amongst themselves as the insurgent “Tea Baggers” look to wrestle control of the party from the more moderate wing.
Tuesday was a good day to be on a Republican ticket and a bad day to be running as a Democrat, but the results are not catastrophic for Obama. In South Florida there is no long term appetite for extremes, but this week’s results demonstrate that the American people don’t like their leaders very much and have relished giving this one a good “shellacking”.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.