Election night 2014: What happened?

By: Randy Evans

On a night when Republicans were expected to do well, they did. Well, to be more accurate, on a night when Democrats were expected to do poorly, they did – losing in places they never expected to lose (like Iowa and Colorado) and slipping further and further behind in state capitols and legislatures around the country (including governorships in traditionally dark blue states like Maryland and Massachusetts).

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2016 presidential candidates: Too many to count

 By: Randy Evans

With the final stretch of the 2014 election to begin, political operatives have already started to line up key supporters and activists for the 2016 presidential election. Not surprisingly, this includes visits (indeed repeated visits)to Georgia by potential presidential contenders, especially as another Super Southern Tuesday starts to take shape.

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The Politics of Impeachment

By Randy Evans

Desperate people do desperate things, whether in sports or politics. As Democrats concede that they face “strong headwinds” in the upcoming November midterm elections, most pollsters and pundits concede that 2014 could be another historic election year with huge gains for Republicans. Meanwhile, Republicans have adopted a bunker mentality hoping to avoid the kinds of catastrophic gaffes that snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in years past.

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A predictable end to Georgia’s GOP Senate runoff

By: Randy Evans

No fight is worse than a family fight. In some part, it is because family members know the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of each other better than anyone else. And so, intraparty political fights are often the worst.

Probably no better illustration exists than the primary runoff election between incumbent Republican Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran and Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel. By every definition, the primary runoff election was a political street fight of the worst kind – the kind where all of the rules get thrown out the window.

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Newt Gingrich survived; Eric Cantor didn’t

By: Randy Evans

In 1989, then-Congressman Dick Cheney left the U.S. House of Representatives to become the secretary of defense for President George H. W. Bush. At the time, he was the minority whip for the House GOP Caucus.

Then 6th District Congressman Newt Gingrich, with no leadership position or experience, surprised all of the Washington, D.C., establishment when he ran for and was elected as Cheney’s successor as the minority whip. In the months that followed, then-Whip Gingrich spent endless hours campaigning for Republicans around the country, especially those who had helped with his upset victory in the House leadership race.

Meanwhile, back at home in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, he again faced Democratic opposition. Indeed, since Gingrich’s election in 1978, then-Georgia House Speaker Tom Murphy remained committed to defeating Georgia’s Republican congressman and the 1990 election was no different. In 1990, the opponent was attorney David Worley, a talented politician with the connections, resources and political skills to mount a serious campaign.

Early polls always showed that Minority Whip Gingrich should easily win against the unknown and underfunded challenger. Yet, Congressman Gingrich’s absence from the district took its toll. Challenger David Worley turned Whip Gingrich’s leadership into a potential liability with limousines traveling the district with “NEWT” signs in the windows highlighting a significant perk of leadership – a private chauffeured limousine.

Fortunately for Gingrich, others involved in the campaign laid it out on the line and Congressman Gingrich spent the final days working in his district nonstop for re-election. After CBS News called the race for challenger David Worley based on early returns, Congressman Gingrich was re-elected by a margin of 974 votes out of 156,562 votes (78,768 to 77,794). The rest is history.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor was not so fortunate. In what has been the shocker of the 2014 election season, a political unknown, professor Dave Brat, handily defeated House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the Republican primary for Virginia’s 7th Congressional District. Although Cantor’s campaign spent millions to Brat’s thousands, Virginia voters decided that it was time for someone new.

Leader Cantor’s loss is not the first time that a member of House leadership has lost. In 1992, the election cycle after Gingrich’s near loss, longtime National Republican Congressional Committee Chair Guy Vander Jagt lost his primary bid for re-election in western Michigan. Like Cantor, Vander Jagt had no clue what was coming until after it was too late.

Much has been made of Congressman Cantor’s defeat with Democrats celebrating and Republicans pondering. After all, if a candidate has money, name recognition, incumbency and leadership, then most agree that the candidate should win – especially in their own party’s primary.

Of course, all of these factors are not enough. U. S. House Speaker Tom Foley (in 1994) and Georgia House Speaker Tom Murphy both lost re-election bids. Notwithstanding incumbency and an overwhelming campaign fundraising advantage, former Gov. Roy Barnes lost his reelection bid. In the end, professor Brat was right – voters vote, not money or position or power.

Many have credited the Tea Party with Congressman Cantor’s defeat. Certainly, Tea Party support was a factor in Congressman Cantor’s race. Yet, Cantor garnered only 44 percent of the vote with professor Brat getting 55 percent. While the Tea Party is no doubt a significant player in Republican politics, it has not yet reached those kinds of levels in competitive primaries – especially in Virginia. Indeed, Sens. Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell cruised to renomination notwithstanding Tea Party primary opponents.

“Make no mistake, the Tea Party does provide an important platform for challengers against established candidates and office holders … But for a candidate to lose 55 percent of the vote of their own party, much more was wrong … the core causes of his defeat have become clear – and familiar. At the end of the day, voters have little loyalty to candidates who they believe have little loyalty to them. Eric Cantor is a good man, an effective leader, and was a good congressman. His is also soon to be a former member of Congress.”

Make no mistake, the Tea Party does provide an important platform for challengers against established candidates and officeholders. In addition to Cantor’s loss, Mississippi’s Senate race is proof positive of what impact the Tea Party can have with the backing of some high-profile names.

But, for a candidate to lose 55 percent of the vote of their own party, much more was wrong. Indeed, as time has passed and the political analysts have started to dissect Cantor’s campaign, the core causes of his defeat have become clear – and familiar.

At the end of the day, voters have little loyalty to candidates who they believe have little loyalty to them. Eric Cantor is a good man, an effective leader, and was a good congressman. He is also soon to be a former member of Congress.

No doubt, Sen. Saxby Chambliss saw all of this as the 2014 election cycle approached and recognized just what it would take to compete in the current political environment. While no

one will know whether he would have faced the kinds of challenges that Mississippi’s senior senator, Thad Cochran, faces, he certainly had to consider the possibility.

The fact is that in today’s political world, there are no safe seats and all politics remains decidedly local. It is an important lesson for every incumbent in 2014. Like Cantor, politicians who forget it could find themselves looking back wondering just what happened.

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