TOPICS > Politics > THE MORNING LINE

Five lessons from this election season so far

BY Domenico Montanaro, Rachel Wellford and Simone Pathe  July 14, 2014 at 9:33 AM EDT
Democratic Alaska Senator Mark Begich's re-election campaign is one to watch. Photo by Marc Lester for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Democratic Alaska Senator Mark Begich’s re-election campaign is one to watch. Photo by Marc Lester for The Washington Post via Getty Images

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • The establishment has had a good season … Incumbents are tough to beat … Democrats’ chances could rest with their Marks … Money can’t buy you tea party love … and ObamaCare fades as a talking point.
  • Immigration latest
  • IRS retreat? Tax-exempt just got a little easier

Just past the midway point: It’s been 132 days (or about 4 months and two weeks) since the first primaries of the midterm season — March 4 in Texas — and there are 113 days to go until Election Day (about three months and three weeks). Just past the midway point, what have we learned from this midterm season? A few things:

1. The Establishment has had a very good season so far: Sure, Eric Cantor lost, and yes, Chris McDaniel in Mississippi just won’t go away (even though he lost, he’s still challenging the results, holding up what he says are 8,300 potentially fraudulent ballots). But the shift in GOP establishment strategy to actually play in midterms and try and take out problematic candidates has — so far — paid big dividends. Republicans need to net six seats to take back the Senate. Right now, they are well within striking distance. There are 12 seats in play, and 10 of them are held by Democrats. In the two seats held by Republicans, Democrats are still in margin-of-error territory, but Republicans got the best primary outcomes in Kentucky and Georgia they could have hoped for.

2. Incumbents are really hard to beat: It’s well documented that incumbents are generally hard to take out. But this year, despite anti-Washington, anti-Congress sentiments being at all-time highs (or, perhaps, lows), there has been no anti-incumbent wave. So far, just two — TWO — incumbents have lost in primaries — Cantor and Ralph Hall of Texas. That record is outpacing the post-World War II average.

3. The Democratic firewalls of Alaska and Arkansas: If you were to ask before this election season started which Democrats winning or losing could tell us what happens on election night — whether Republicans take back the Senate or not — most observers would have said to watch places like Louisiana and North Carolina. While it’s still true that Mary Landrieu and Kay Hagan’s fates in those states, respectively, will tell us a lot about what happens on election night, few would have said the red-state Democratic Marks — Begich and Pryor — might be the plugs in the dams for Democrats. Begich and Pryor have looked surprisingly strong in states that at the presidential level have gone heavily Republican. If they win, it makes Republicans’ path to a majority much more difficult. Republicans acknowledge they are doing well so far, but most expect — because of those national trends and President Barack Obama’s struggling approval ratings — for that to change. Whether that trajectory does change may, in fact, hold the key to the election. Watch the polls after this summer…

4. Money can’t buy you tea party love: The tea party has shot a lot of blanks this season. The one place it won was in Virginia with little-known college professor “David” Brat beating “Goliath” Cantor. The irony, though, with Brat’s win is that it was truly grassroots. There was no DC or tea party establishment money coming in. In many of the other high-profile places it has spent big, including in Mississippi, the candidates have lost (except in a few House races and the Senate race in Nebraska).

5. The issues have changed: “What’s this election about?” is a question many looking for themes and explanations often ask. When this election season started, health care — more specifically the botched health-care rollout — was the dominant issue Republicans were running on. To a large extent, they still are in many places, and it’s what outside groups like the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity are spending their money on in key races. But the saliency of that attack has waned, especially since the health care exchanges did eventually get up and running. There has been the strongest stretch of job growth in nearly 15 years. But Democrats have not been able to capitalize, because the president continues to struggle with myriad foreign policy problems as well as this unaccompanied children crisis at the border. Republicans have picked up on other issues, too. Instead of harping on the ills of ObamaCare, there’s been immigration, Obama’s executive actions, and the new Benghazi investigative panel.

2016 Republicans twisting the knife on immigration: Speaking of immigration, The White House was trying to get support from governors for his immigration policy while they were in town. Newly installed Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell met with dozens of governors from both parties. But there was little agreement on a way forward. Seeing a political opening, some Republican governors tried to poke holes. In fact, the AP writes, “Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad were among the most vocal Republican critics. They seized on the administration’s plans to place the children with friends or family members without checking on their immigration status.” Maybe it’s not surprising that three governors considering presidential bids in 2016 — Walker, Christie and Texas’ Rick Perry — have all been out front on this.

Immigration moving away from Democrats as a strength? The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty and David Nakamura look at how the current border crisis is “scrambling the politics of immigration policy.” They write, “Republicans and even some Democrats have accused Obama of being insufficiently engaged in a calamity that many say he should have seen coming. And the president’s own party is deeply divided over what must be done now. … The emergency has also renewed questions about the administration’s competence.” Of course, Republicans face a challenge as well on the current crisis. They can’t look callous and overtly political. If they appear to be simply trying to score political points and not solve the problem, that will only play into the narrative of them representing not much more than an obstructionist party, rather than one that should be trusted to govern. In addition, there’s the continued long-term demographic problem the party has with Latinos. The GOP has to watch that some of its harder-line, anti-immigration voices don’t gain outsize voices and use rhetoric that is unsympathetic or worse. Some Republicans had been circulating that 90 percent of the immigrant children skip immigration hearings. It looks more to be about half. “According to data from the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review,” AP writes, “about a quarter of immigrants facing deportations hearings don’t show up as ordered. The no-show rate for the juvenile immigration court docket is about 46 percent.” That’s still going to provide a talking point for Republicans.

Tax-exempt status just got a little easier: Under new IRS rules that came into effect two weeks ago, charity groups will have a much simpler path to achieving tax-exempt status. Organizations now only have to pay a small fee and fill out a short form declaring their annual income is less than $50,000, their total assets are less than $250,000 and they are in compliance with the tax code regarding charities. Once that’s all taken care of, their benefactors will automatically be able to contribute tax-deductible donations. IRS commissioner John Koskinen told Time magazine the new process will help with the massive backlog of smaller charities, leaving more time and energy to review the larger nonprofits. But some worry this will lead to abuse of the tax-exempt status by some groups. The move seems a bit of a retreat from the IRS, which has been under political fire. The agency earlier this year under Koskinen’s new leadership appeared likely to unveil new rules that would be something of a crackdown on non-profits who were playing too political a role (they’re not supposed to).

Quote of the day: “I’ll be a thorn in his [posterior].” — Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat from Alaska, being edited by The Washington Post for language after telling the paper that part of his strategy for winning re-election is to separate, or perhaps attach himself, to President Obama.

Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1911, President William Howard Taft gave an award to one of the early aviators, Harry N. Atwood, at the White House. How did Atwood arrive at the White House that day? Be the first to Tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. Congratulations to David Schooler ‏(@GandTMan) for guessing Friday’s trivia: What occupation did John Quincy Adams have after losing his second term bid to Andrew Jackson? The answer was: He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Massachusetts.

LINE ITEMS

  • The Department of Justice and Citigroup have agreed to a settlement of approximately $7 billion for misleading the bank’s investors about the riskiness of some mortgage-backed securities in the lead-up to the 2008 financial crisis.

  • The White House this week is making a push for Congress to reach a deal on highway funding, with the president making speeches about the importance of infrastructure spending in Northern Virginia on Tuesday and in Delaware on Thursday.

  • After brokering a deal on Saturday to audit all votes cast in Afghanistan’s runoff presidential election last month, Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Vienna on Sunday to try to rescue negotiations over Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. But there was little sign of a breakthrough ahead of the informal July 20 deadline.

  • Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren hits the road for Democrats. It’s a remarkable role for a freshman senator and portends well for her future presidential prospects beyond 2016 — provided, of course, everyone is still an economic populist by them. She speaks at Netroots Nation Friday. Vice President Joe Biden speaks Thursday.

  • Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor is facing the toughest battle of his career against Republican challenger Tom Cotton, and that means reserving several hundred thousand dollars of TV airtime.

  • Americans’ approval of the Supreme Court remains nearly evenly divided, but support for the court among Republicans has increased 21 percentage points since 2013, while Democratic support is down, according to a Gallup poll released Monday.

  • It’s the Mitt Romney problem all over again for some wealthy House candidates who are finding their wealth more of a burden than an advantage.

  • At the National Governors Association meeting in Nashville this weekend, the governors avoided the “radioactive” topic of Common Core. It’s pretty amazing, considering the standardized content standards came originally from the group.

  • Jonathan Martin notes that the same polarization and stalemate that governors typically criticize Washington for has permeated their ranks as well, with many governors wary of taking controversial stances on hot-button issues.

  • Republican foreign policy divisions have come out into the open with a spat between Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, which Sen. John McCain of Arizona also weighed in on.

  • Perry is making his fourth visit to Iowa since the 2012 campaign next weekend, following New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s visit on Thursday. Paul is scheduled to be in the Hawkeye State in early August.

  • Chris McDaniel in Mississippi is not giving up the fight against Sen. Thad Cochran. Now he’s going after the Magnolia State’s secretary of state because McDaniel says he has 8,300 potentially fraudulent ballots.

  • The New York Times takes a closer look at the life of Mississippi tea party founder Mark Mayfield, whose suicide has fueled further drama in the state’s contentious GOP fight.

  • Iowa GOP Senate nominee Joni Ernst gave the weekly Republican address this past weekend, raising her national profile.

  • With the defeat of former Majority Leader Eric Cantor in his Republican primary, there will not be a single Jewish Republican in the House or Senate, which has prompted donors to back more rising stars in the Jewish GOP.

  • The New York Times magazine examines the policy views of House candidate and economics professor Dave Brat, and how he sees religion playing a part in a free-market economy.

  • The people of Alabama are now able to carry guns into polling places, after one man complained on Facebook that he was told to remove his pistol from the premises while trying to vote in the June 3 primary.

  • Mike Huckabee branded himself as the average Joe candidate during the 2008 presidential campaign, but now he is a Fox News contributor who has billed nearly $253,000 in private plane travel over the past few years. Will this new way of life be a political liability for the former Arkansas governor if he decides to run for president in 2016?

  • Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin says she’s gotten little guidance on the unaccompanied minors crisis despite the fact that tens of thousands of the children are being housed in an army post in her state, Buzzfeed notes.

  • Republican gay rights groups are formulating a strategy to convince GOP leaders to strip the ban on same-sex marriage from the party’s platform in time for the 2016 convention.

  • Maryland GOP Rep. Andy Harris wants to block the District of Columbia’s lax marijuana laws, and Mayor Vincent Gray is having none of it: he urged D.C. residents to boycott establishments in Harris’ Eastern Shore district.

  • New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker is on a mission to get a selfie with every other senator.

  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.

TOP TWEETS

For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

Sign up here to receive the Morning Line in your inbox every morning.

Questions or comments? Email Domenico Montanaro at dmontanaro-at-newshour-dot-org or Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.

Follow the politics team on Twitter: