Chris Freind, a Philadelphia-based columnist, offers his annual pre-Election Day predictions:
Election Day 2014: All too easy
Predicting this year’s election results makes for an easy column. But perhaps more important than the returns are the reasons behind the vote, since understanding the electorate’s mindset provides insight into what direction the country will take.
The American people have always accepted their government not being efficient. After all, democracy - free people governing themselves - is not a particularly efficient system. Just the best.
But for whatever reason, things have become exponentially worse. Now, there is a pervasive feeling that we have returned to the Jimmy Carter years, where nothing seems to work because the system is utterly broken.
Examples abound: the Obamacare website failure was a multibillion dollar fiasco; the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s website repeatedly crashed after the recent airbag recall; the CDC’s response to Ebola was fraught with amateur mistakes; NASA cancelled the shuttle program without a replacement, and its latest rocket exploded in spectacular fashion; the immigration crisis continues unimpeded; and the Secret Service’s multiple failures, including its inability to literally lock the front door to the White House, makes them look like the Keystone Kops. And the list goes on.
Taken individually, none would influence the vote. But collectively, given the level of disgust over the government’s ineptitude, people will vote against the Party in power. The buck stops with the President, so Election Day will be a boon for Republicans. But a word of caution to the Grand Old Party: they would be wise to understand that it’s not so much people embracing them but rejecting the status quo.
What they do with their gains - simply be obstructionist, or articulate and execute a bold vision - will go a long way to determining their future success.
Here is the breakdown:
Governor: This is the easiest call. Democrat Tom Wolf will trounce incumbent Tom Corbett in an historic landslide. It will be a humiliating defeat for Corbett not only because he will become the first modern-day Governor to lose re-election, but, quite possibly, the only Republican Governor in the nation to lose.
Despite riding to victory in 2010 with a ten-point margin and having record Republican legislative majorities, Corbett failed at virtually everything, from liquor privatization to pension reform, and from reducing some of the nation’s highest taxes to reforming a failed educational system (though he did manage to give Pennsylvanians the highest gas taxes in the nation).
Yet rather than blame himself for legendary incompetence (and that’s saying something in Harrisburg), it’s been everyone else’s fault: the media (of course), an intransigent legislature, unions, former Governor Ed Rendell, and probably even extraterrestrials. Corbett had everything, so the total failure must be laid at his own feet.
But far and away, the biggest reasons Corbett will lose are his handling of the Jerry Sandusky investigation while Attorney General and his devastating effect on Penn State and its football program. Half of the University’s mammoth alumni network think Corbett put Joe Paterno in his grave prematurely, and the other half are convinced he allowed a monster on the street much longer than necessary for purely political reasons.
To this day, Corbett has adamantly refused to answer the most basic questions: Why did he direct a narcotics agent with a small staff, instead of specialized Child Predator units, to lead the pedophilia investigation? Why did it take three long years to make an arrest? And why did he, as a Penn State Trustee, approve the extremely harsh sanctions against the University and then reverse course by suing the NCAA in a case that turned out to be not just legal folly, but a boon to a law firm that happened to be a large campaign contributor?
Much of Corbett’s base has abandoned him because they simply cannot trust a man whom they believe put political fortunes above children’s physical welfare. This election has little to do with Tom Wolf and everything to do with Tom Corbett. The Sandusky affair will always cause great pain, but for many, booting the Governor will bring about a sense of closure.
Congress: Given the redistricting after the 2010 census, control of the House of Representatives will remain in Republican hands --- great news for the GOP since it holds a sizable majority. In fact, Republicans will pick up a handful of seats nationwide, and hold many being vacated by GOP members. Ryan Costello wins handily in Chester County (Jim Gerlach’s seat), as will Tom MacArthur in New Jersey (former Eagle Jon Runyan’s district). No other Pennsylvania races are remotely competitive.
U.S. Senate: This is where the GOP will make its biggest gains. Democrats currently control the 100-member chamber with 53 senators (though effectively they have 55 since two Independents caucus with them), but their majority will almost certainly fall. Republicans are poised to pick up seats in Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia. Louisiana will probably see a runoff, where the GOP’s prospects are favorable. Kansas, typically a Republican stronghold but where GOP incumbent Pat Roberts is in trouble, will, in the end, stay Republican. Depending on the extent of the Republican groundswell, North Carolina may flip, with gains in New Hampshire and Virginia possible, though significantly less likely. Despite the GOP’s penchant for snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory, a Republican majority is all but guaranteed.
Interestingly, the GOP’s anticipated majority may be short-lived. The tables could well be turned in 2016, when Republicans will be forced to defend more seats than the Democrats, a task that much harder if their presidential nominee is a dud, wholly unable to relate to the average American, a la John McCain and Mitt Romney.
State House: Republicans hold a substantial majority, which they will not only keep but likely expand. The Democrats’ best hope for a pickup is the Delaware County seat vacated by longtime Representative Nick Micozzie, but at the end of the day, the GOP will carry that District.
State Senate: The GOP holds a 27-23 edge here, and will add to it. The question is by how much. The state’s most hotly-contested race is the 26th District seat (comprising Delaware and Chester Counties) being vacated by Ted Erickson. Delaware County Councilman Tom McGarrigle is locked in a bruising, multimillion-dollar fight with Plumbers’ Union Business Manager John Kane.
McGarrigle has been attacked for his past tax problems while operating a small business, as well as raising taxes multiple times as County Councilman. But above all, his association with Tom Corbett was proving toxic. As of Labor Day, the race seemed Kane’s to lose.
And that looks to be exactly what has happened.
McGarrigle and the vaunted Delaware County Republican Machine rallied, incessantly hammering Kane on his $276,000 salary and his pledge to keep his union job should he be elected. That barrage has knocked Kane off-message, and his campaign has floundered in recent weeks. All of which brings up two points:
1) Why would the Democrats nominate a union official in the first place, knowing that such a position is a lightning rod? There were more than enough controversial aspects to this senate campaign, from taxing natural gas to funding pubic education. Why would they willfully inject such a highly-charged issue, especially knowing how close the race would be?
2) How could Kane and his braintrust not have anticipated the exorbitant salary and keeping-both-jobs issues being so front-and-center? And how could they not have crafted better responses? Thinking there would not be a huge backlash taking a union paycheck three times higher than a senate salary is unfathomably naïve. It’s pretty hard being the independent Kane claims to be when his salary and campaign are bankrolled by a special interest.
Kane’s best hope is that Corbett will get crushed in Delaware County. Regardless of campaign issues, at some point McGarrigle’s campaign could be doomed by Corbett’s numbers. McGarrigle can still win if Wolf gets 57 or 58 percent. But if the rout gets much higher, Kane will prevail.
Prediction: McGarrigle emerges victorious. Barely.
And that’s all she wrote.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. He can be reached at CF@FFZMedia.com