ATLANTA – The Democratic Party was hopeful that their gubernatorial candidates in Georgia and Florida could turn red states blue, along with picking up several seats in the United States Congress. As these two states have certified their election results, both races require in-depth analysis for contextual purposes, providing an opportunity to understand what effect these elections can have on the country moving into a new decade.
Leading up to this election, political commentators considered whether a so-called ‘blue wave’ would occur. It appears on the surface that the Democrats’ message was more appealing to the majority of voter’s nationwide. According to the U.S. Elections Project, the United States turned out 49.3% of eligible voters in the 2018 General election. Minnesota experienced the highest turnout in the country, with an overwhelming 64.3% of eligible voters. Georgia saw the largest increase in turnout with 61.44% of voters, a 25% turnout increase from the average.
It is important to note that these numbers were bipartisan – meaning that both Democratic and Republican voters increased. But it wasn’t only turnout that contributed to the blue wave conversation. Democrats also saw a major edge against their Republican counterparts in fundraising. Their record fundraising and campaign spending points toward their successful bid to regain control of the House of Representatives.
There were some races however that saw that observers saw one candidate, who raised the most money, lose. One race was in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District. Democrat Lucy McBath, who’s campaign raised approximately $1.2 million, ousted incumbent Republican Karen Handel, who’s campaign raised approximately $12.2 million. Another race was for the U.S. seat from Texas. The incumbent Senator, Republican Ted Cruz raised $40 million. His Democratic opponent, Congressman Beto O’Rourke, raised more than $69 million. Nevertheless, Senator Cruz was able to successfully defend his seat and return back to the U.S. Senate.
Races with more national attention saw closer parity in fundraising and spending, however. There were three statewide races, all in the deep South which can be the center-stage for American politics – Georgia Governor, Florida Governor, and Mississippi Senate (special election), that arguably determined what the ‘blue wave’ would mean going forward.
In the Georgia gubernatorial, State Representative Stacey Abrams raised $16.8 million, and former Secretary of State Brian Kemp raised $17 million. This race was close and went into Election Day in a statistical tie. In Florida’s gubernatorial race, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum raised $18.25 million and United States Congressman Ron DeSantis raised $18.17 million. Mayor Gillum was expected to win, according to polls. He polled well above 54% prior to Election Day. In the Mississippi Senate race, Democrat Mike Epsy, who raised who has raised $1.34 million, currently trails Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith, who has raised $3.3 million, who by about 14.9 points in the polls. This contest is in a runoff, though.
The results in the two races mentioned that have concluded featured prominent African-American Democrats in the deep-south, a region that has been notoriously known for a political strategy called the Southern Strategy, which began with Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater in 1968. Republicans used the white electorate to hold onto power despite demographic changes by using a combination of dog-whistles and deliberate agendas of intimidation, suppression, and racism.
The United States Senate has seen 1,970 elected to it’s body. Only 10, though, have been African-American (2 are currently serving: Cory Booker and Kamala Harris). Of the 2,386 people elected Governor, only 2 have been African-American (Douglas Wilder – Virginia, 1990 and Duval Patrick – Massachusetts, 2006). That is 0.0051% and 0.00084%, respectively, for a demographic that makes up about 14% of the total population.
In 2018, there were dozens of Congressional races with socio-racial and socio-diversities. Whatever the outcome of the two statewide gubernatorial contests and a Senate race, they would define the blue wave. Not to take away from the marginal gains in representation of LGTBQ, Latinx, Asian-Americans, Muslim, and women but as African-American voters are prominently present in state and national election and make up a reliable share of the Democratic base. Their votes, however, do not reflect equitably in representation.
With only one African-American Republican running for statewide office, John James for U.S. Senate in Michigan, and nil for Governor, Democrats had the opportunity to make gains in representation that would include that reliable base. Instead the party failed to win either highly visible gubernatorial elections. These losses did not come without a motivated effort from grassroot organizers. Organizations like The Collective PAC, Democracy in Color, The Black PAC, and Higher Heights for America were able to organize and support candidates, turn out voters, and ultimately effect the outcome of this election.
Even with record turnout, exorbitant amounts of fundraising and campaign spending, and high voter enthusiasm for the ‘perfect’ candidate, all three of these mentioned races (assuming Epsy’s Senate race follows data trends) ended in victory for the Republican. Claims of voter suppression and electoral malpractice echoed in the halls of federal courts, as groups fought over access to the ballot box, voter registration issues, and provisional/absentee votes.
In Georgia, Federal Judges, like Judge Eleanor Louise Ross of the U.S. District Court for Northern District of Georgia, ruled against then-Secretary of State multiple times about actions the office has taken regarding voter registration status of Georgians, of which according to Judge Ross’ order in one of those cases, “violates the right to vote, as guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, for individuals [Kemp] has flagged and placed into pending status; These individuals will suffer irreparable harm if they lose the right to vote.”
In Florida, 3,000 votes disappeared and counties at the center of the election controversy miss the deadline for submission of recount results adding to the confusion. A total of six election-related lawsuit are pending, including one that challenges a familiar exact-signature match. In those lawsuits, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, according to the court order, ruled that “voters who had ballots due to signature discrepancies had two days to resolve any issues, in order to get their votes counted.”
In both of these instances, and definitely in other states as well, it was not the money nor the voter turnout that could be responsible for the loss of these popular candidates. It was the laws that govern the election that prevented their ascension to power. There was enough turnout and ample enthusiasm that would have elected the third and fourth Governorships in history to these two candidates, however due to the restrictive regulations regarding voter registration and ballot access, it remains to be seen.
Statistically, the blue wave happened. Democrats performed well despite structural impediments that were presented through legal challenge and political rhetoric. What the data also shows is that though winning by increasing margins through the popular vote, that Governorships, statewide offices and the Senate, all elected by popular vote are all systematically remaining Republican, and overwhelmingly white.
It’s a reality that there are no moral victories in politics. Those who won, won. Those who loss, well, they have to go back to the drawing board. As Ezra Klein states, “Elections tell us who wins power, not what the public believes.” If the Democrats want to truly experience the blue wave and use the gains made in demographic shifts to their advantage, the strategy moving forward must include litigation that challenges the constitutionality of laws they claim to be suppressive and restrictive in nature and changing election law to make access to the ballot box more accommodating. Political rhetoric does not win elections. Celebrities do not move people to vote – ideas, candidates, and public policy do.
Moving ahead, 2020 is the next national election and the U.S. Census is soon to follow. The implications of this year’s midterm election will far-reach beyond the next four years. The wave won’t be realized unless those elected use their power to address the structural and fundamental areas of concern that were highlighted in this election. If not, then Republicans will continue to dominate, regardless of the popular vote and demographic shifts.
The message can no longer be about winning next time and progress. It must focus on all that is being done right now to ensure that public policy and political power reflects the interest of the people, and not the commitment of special interests. Holding elected officials accountable and being a part of the civic dialogue is equally as essential as voting. If the blue wave is to be a legitimate, it must continue beyond this present moment and into the weeks and months ahead.