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Welcome Back: Midterms: GOP disunity may mean Democratic victory

By Nick Voutsinos / Opinions Editor

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This November, the Republican Party will seek to take back the U.S. Senate after eight long years of being the frustrated — yet no less verbal — minority. It has been eight years highlighted by rhetoric, filibusters and gridlock.

But, luckily for the Grand Old Party, they will no longer have to resort to putting Ted Cruz on a soapbox for hours on end to fight back. According to the forecasts, the GOP will prevail in this year’s midterm elections, thus claiming the Senate majority and the legislative authority.

They will prevail only slightly, however, as the forecasts only allow Republicans a razor-thin margin of victory — The New York Times’ “statistical election-forecasting machine” predicts that the Republicans have a 54 percent chance of gaining a majority.

So, the GOP can’t afford to get cocky just yet because there is still a very real possibility that the Democrats will win in the end, despite the forecasts.

For Democrats, the possible saving grace this November is a fragmented conservative electorate.

The Republican Party is losing its grip on many of its former conservative bases to more ideologically “pure” factions, such as the tea party and the Libertarians. And in a close race in which all votes and private campaign contributions matter, this could prove to be detrimental for the GOP.

In order to win a decisive victory this year, the Republicans must have a unified constituency. But with only 28 percent of Americans viewing Congress favorably, convincing the electorate to play ball will be difficult.

Take, for instance, Eric Cantor’s primary election loss to political no-name tea party candidate David Brat. Albeit, this was a primary race for a Virginia’s 7th district house seat, not a race for a senate seat, but it successfully highlights a detached Republican Party all the same.

Cantor was the GOP golden boy, a man the party saw as representative of its ideals. His popularity within the party led to his — now former — position as House majority leader and grooming to replace John Boehner as Speaker of the House.

The voters did not hold him in such high esteem. Despite all of the Republican Party’s resources available to him, raising $5.4 million for his campaign — compared to Brat’s $207,000 — Cantor suffered a gigantic upset and lost by more than 10 percentage points to Brat. It was the first time in American history that a House majority leader lost to a primary challenger.

It is likely that voters were simply expressing their frustrations with the legislative branch by punishing a big incumbent. Of course, the low approval rating for Congress could mean trouble for Democratic incumbents as well, but not as much. There remains to be a large difference between the right and left sides of the political spectrum in American politics: The right is composed of many powerful political factions while the left has a unipolar power in the Democratic Party — as demonstrated by the Cantor upheaval.

Since the Republican Party is failing to keep all its eggs in one conservative basket, these separate factions will continue to be a thorn in the GOP’s side, especially this close midterm election race — which could ultimately cost them the Senate.

The sheer amount of spending in the primaries alone is a testament to this struggle. Independent conservative groups spent $46 million in contested Republican congressional primaries this year — compared to $33 million spent during the 2012 election season — all in an effort to make the party more uniform and dependable. 

For the most part, the spending surge has — other than in the Cantor case — either effectively scared most deviating Tea Party candidates away or smothered them in super PAC money.

But as chairman of the Ohio Republican Party Matt Borges said, “We can’t expect to win if we are fighting each other all the time.”

In such a contested midterm race, party resources will be essential. But the Republicans and their allies may not have enough left to fight the much stronger opponent — the Democrats. 

Even if they did have enough left, money does not have the power to quell voter disillusionment — hence, Cantor spending millions and losing big time. That’s where the other faction comes in: the Libertarian Party.

In nine of the 12 Senate seats up for grabs, Libertarian challengers have emerged as third party candidates. After a fierce battle with the tea party in the primaries, Republicans will have to face both the Democrats and the Libertarians. Libertarian candidates won’t win, but look for them to play spoiler in the midterms, taking much-needed votes away from the Republicans.

Take the race in North Carolina, for instance, where the Republican base is scattered at best. The Democratic incumbent senator Kay Hagan was originally seen as one of the most vulnerable Democrats in this midterm cycle. Luckily for Hagan, Libertarian candidate Sean Haugh has garnered a lot of support from conservatives in the state who do not necessarily see eye-to-eye with the GOP — particularly with the tea party hubs who fall more in line with Libertarian fiscal ideals than those of the Republican Party.

So in the state that chose Mitt Romney for president in 2012, Hagan currently has a seven-point lead over her Republican challenger, Thom Tillis — thanks to the fragmented conservative electorate in the state.

Overall, this will play a huge role in the midterm elections. If Republicans can’t herd the conservative factions back into their tent, they will not win the Senate this year — no matter what the forecasts say. 

Republicans need to touch base with their constituency but, after a year marred by obstruction, gridlock and, ultimately, a government shutdown, it may be too little, too late.

We’ll see when November rolls around.

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Welcome Back: Midterms: GOP disunity may mean Democratic victory