2014 was a midterm election which both parties looked upon eagerly. The Republicans thought that they had a chance to take back the Senate and turn President Obama into a lame duck for the remainder of his term, and the Democrats thought that they could take back the House from Republican gerrymandered oblivion. Neither of these things happened, however, and it is still questionable if the circumstances surrounding 2016 would have come out at all similarly had either of these scenarios come to fruition.
2013 was a hard year for the Obama administration. He hit rock bottom in terms of approval ratings at upper 30% to lower 40% around the New Year, and over the course of the year there was significant outrage over the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which held the popular label Obamacare. The federal distribution website faced numerous technical issues, and the deadlines for applying for healthcare had to be pushed further and further back. Also, the president had to concede some minimum requirements for healthcare plans which would have stripped a number people of their current plans, which allowed a number of people to retain their plans for a longer period of time. The legislation was decried by many as overcomplicating the healthcare process, and house Republicans tried to repeal Obamacare ad nauseum. Obamacare especially provoked many theo-conservatives as Hobby Lobby filed a lawsuit against the administration on the basis that requiring them to provide birth control (including Plan B, which they equated to abortion) Even some liberals started to become agitated with the fumbled rollout. Senator Sanders stated that he supported President Obama’s efforts to reform healthcare, but felt that the ACA ended up as a washed out piece of legislation that doesn’t do enough to make meaningful reform. With President Obama’s signature piece of legislation going from the frying pan into the fire, his entire administration was called into question.
Those who lived in poverty saw their healthcare state improve significantly over the course of the years after the ACA’s implementation, but many in the middle class saw their rates go up in the years following. Many American families were caught in a place where they had enough income to where they were not eligible for government assistance, but their premiums increased noticeably because of insurance companies trying to make up for profit lost by providing reduced cost services for the poor. In the eyes of the Obama administration, this burden would ideally have been shifted more to the upper class, but he had no control over the actions of the private market which did not tend to be the fairest of environments. Many in the middle class, whom the Obama administration wanted to help the most, ended up being hurt because of the actions insurance companies took due to the ACA. When concerns were raised, the Democratic Party was quick to point out that they were only affected by what the insurance companies did, and not the government, but many people already pointed the blame on the ACA.
Republicans hoped to capitalize on this issue in order to increase their stake in Congress by promising an upheaval of “Obamacare” and removing government interference from healthcare. In the summer of 2014, things were looking promising for the GOP. More Republican representatives were in danger than Democratic ones, but the Republicans were looking to take enormous gains in the Senate. Montana, South Dakota, and Arkansas all held Democratic incumbents who were almost assured defeat, while Alaska, West Virginia, and North Carolina were all toss ups with Democratic incumbents.
Two states which felt slightly out of place this time around were Colorado and Kentucky. State Senator Alison Grimes was an upstart Democrat which challenges unpopular incumbent and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Senator McConnell faced a significant Tea Party challenge early in the year, but he was reassured his party’s nomination with a 61% vote after the primaries were held. McConnell was clearly in a precarious situation already, without all of his party behind him, but Grimes was a fearsome competitor. She used the state Democratic Party, which still had a significant presence despite the deep red tinge of the state at the presidential level, as a jumping off point where she presented her passion and prowess for governing and debating. In Colorado, a state that was still a critical battleground state, Senator Mark Udall was leading in almost all polls against challenger Ken Buck by a margin greater than what President Obama won the state in 2012. Udall remained popular in the state even though his son was caught with cocaine early in 2014, which was a circumstance the CO GOP tried and failed to capitalize off of. Despite its swing state status, Buck’s chance of victory appeared slim. A notable point is that both of these states had a state managed ACA rollout which was significantly smoother than at the federal level. This was a big boost for Democratic Party in both of these states.
Republicans had a solid majority in the House of Representatives, one that many called an artificial one because of the massive gerrymandering that occurred in many states during 2010 redistricting. A number of Republicans in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, New York, New Jersey, Florida, and Colorado were vulnerable and the Democrats were pushing to make sure that most of those seats fell. The Republican incumbents did not have a lot of the same benefits going for them as their fellow Senate challengers, because the party organization had lot of faith in the power of incumbency in the House, as well as the fact that they put a lot more money into trying to win back the Senate and decided that a few possible casualties in the House was worth it.
As election night approached, both parties became more and more nervous. Hagan, Begich, Landrieu, Grimes, and Chambliss' seat all maintained toss up status, which meant that the Republicans had a chance to take back the Senate. Meanwhile, the polls showed a net Democratic gain in the House, but likely no majority. There was a fear from the Democratic Party that the president could be forced into becoming a lame duck for the remainder of his term and be detrimental to their chances in 2016, even with Hillary still being their flag bearer. When Election Night concluded, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Georgia still remained too close to call. By 5:00 AM the next morning, Kentucky was called for Grimes, which was a massive victory for the Democrats, and a bright spot in a night that had otherwise been poor for the party. Hours later, Georgia would be called for Gingrey and North Carolina for Hagan, with Hagan winning by the closest margin out of anybody else in her class.
Arkansas: Tom Cotton (R) defeats Mark Pryor (D) - R Gain
South Dakota: Mike Rounds (R) defeats Rick Weiland (D) - R Gain
West Virginia: Shelley Moore Capito (R) defeats Natalie Tennant (D) - R Gain
Montana: Steve Daines (R) defeats John Walsh (D) - R Gain
Alaska: Mead Treadwell (R) defeats Mark Begich (D) - R Gain
Georgia: Phil Gingrey defeats Michelle Nunn (D) - R Hold
Kentucky: Alison Grimes (D) defeats Mitch McConnell (R) - D Gain
North Carolina: Kay Hagan (D) defeats Bill Flynn (R) - D Hold
Louisiana: Mary Landrieu (D) defeats Bill Cassidy (R) - D Hold
Iowa: Bruce Braley (D) defeats Joni Ernst (R) - D Hold
The Senate now stood at 49-49-2, 51-49 if caucusing independents are included, and the House at 229-206. It was unclear if, come January, the 114th Congress would become even more deadlocked than the last one due to how both houses came closer to a perfect division. Senator Cornyn of Texas was nearly unopposed to ascending to the position Minority Leader, except from a certain fellow Texan senator. Cruz's bid for Minority Leader received little support, not because there were not enough staunch conservatives to support him, but because it would appear very distasteful to take away the position from a senior member of the party and give it to a junior senator. The never ending world of politics expected to take a breather after the 114th Congress was inaugurated, but it was not to be, as speculation over who would become the next president fired up after a few events proved to shake up both parties.