Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) on Tuesday avoided the indignity of becoming the only GOP incumbent senator to lose his seat in the 2014 midterm elections. The Associated Press called the race for Roberts at 11:10 p.m. ET.
Roberts was dogged from the start by evidence that he lived in suburban Virginia and not in the state he represented in Congress. (His listed residence in Kansas was a home that belonged to two supporters.) He overcame a spirited challenge by a tea-party-backed doctor named Milton Wolf in the GOP primary. And then Roberts, who is 78, battled back from a sizable deficit against independent Greg Orman, a businessman who conveyed an anti-Washington message and refused to say which party he'd caucus with if elected.
The Kansas Senate race got even more interesting in September, when the Democrat on the ticket, Chad Taylor, dropped out, leaving only Orman and Roberts in the race. Polls at the time showed Orman with as much as a 10-point lead.
When Roberts' vulnerability against Orman became apparent earlier this fall, Roberts' campaign staff was replaced with prominent Republican strategists. Reinforcements in the form of outside money swooped in, painting Orman as a Democrat in disguise and as an Obama ally. (Orman had previously made a brief run for Congress on the Democratic ticket.) The constant attacks on Orman paid off, and Roberts has now secured his fourth term in the US Senate.
He won his 2010 gubernatorial race. He beat back a recall attempt in 2012. And on Tuesday, he won his third election in four years, easing past what was supposed to be his stiffest competition yet, this time from Democrat Mary Burke.
Before Tuesday's election, conservatives and establishment Republicans revered Walker for squaring off against organized labor and pushing an unabashedly right-wing agenda in a light-blue, Upper Midwestern state. Before Tuesday's election, he featured prominently on Republican presidential shortlists. Now, the Walker-for-President murmurings increase to a loud chatter.
Walker could mount a formidable presidential run. He enjoys the backing of both Karl Rove and the Koch brothers. He potentially puts in play a state that has voted for Democrats in the last six presidential elections. Robert Draper captured Walker's particular appeal in an October profile in GQ:
After eight years of Obama Otherness (preceded by eight years of dubious big-government conservatism), after shape-shifting McCains and Romneys, and amid a crest of nationwide disgust with ineffectual governance, an unassuming midwestern budget-cutting workhorse might well be the answer to a foundering GOP rather than a show pony like Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz, who are long on oratory but short on results. Given that he is currently running for reelection, it serves the governor to feign disinterest in higher office. Still, his friend and political adviser of over two decades, John Hiller, says, "Of course he's going to look at it. Why wouldn't he?"
In an off-year election, Mary Burke, Walker's opponent, had to mount a Herculean effort to mobilize the Democratic voters who turn out in presidential years but not for midterm elections. Burke's campaign needed turnout to exceed the 2012 recall's 2.5 million and get closer to the 3 million votes cast in that year's presidential race. Burke's economy-centric message homed in on Walker's failure to fulfill his first-term pledge to create 250,000 private-sector jobs, and she campaigned as a business-savvy technocrat who could jumpstart Wisconsin's lagging economy. In a state polarized by Walker's policies, Burke tailored her message to appeal to the small sliver of voters who remained undecided about which candidate to support.
Her outreach wasn't enough. If Tuesday's results are any indication, voters—at least the slim majority that gave Walker a second term—think their governor is on the right track and deserves another four years to continue his work.
But don't count on Walker serving his entire second term. He wouldn't commit to it when asked by the Green Bay Press Gazette: "I've never made a time commitment anywhere I've been in office. I've always made promises about what I would do and how I would do it. I'm not going to change now."
It was the difference between this year's US Senate race and the 2010 election that kept Colorado Democrats up at night: the caliber of the opposition. Democrat Michael Bennet's challenger four years ago, tea partier Ken Buck, had a knack for the ill-timed gaffe. (Recall how, two weeks before the '10 election, Buck went on Meet the Press and compared being gay to alcoholism.) This year, by contrast, incumbent Sen. Mark Udall's rival, GOP Rep. Cory Gardner, ran a disciplined and mistake-free—if disingenuous—operation.
That, in the end, helps explain why the 40-year-old Gardner will be Colorado's next US senator. The Associated Press called the race for Gardner at 10:18 p.m. ET. Gardner's victory gives the Republican Party five of the six seats it needs to take control of the Senate.
Udall took plenty of cues from Bennet's 2010 playbook. Reproductive rights figured prominently in Team Udall's messaging. Udall put together an extensive grassroots machine aimed at mobilizing single women, Hispanics, and unaffiliated voters. And he sought to portray his opponent as too extreme for Colorado voters. (As did outside groups spending heavily on Udall's behalf.)
Udall also had the backing of Colorado's vaunted progressive machine, the gold standard of state-level political infrastructure in the nation. That machine helped Democrats cling to power during the GOP's 2010 landslide, with Bennet and gubernatorial candidate John Hickenlooper winning their elections.
But Udall's defeat also points to Colorado Republicans' progress, however halting, in replicating the left's success. After years of infighting and backsliding, Gardner's party vowed this year to make up ground on their Democratic counterparts and they seem to have succeeded.
Earlier this year, ex-Colorado GOP chairman Dick Wadhams gave a memorable quote to a reporter from the New York Times: "This election, in many ways, is going to determine whether Colorado has really shifted blue." If there's a major takeaway from Udall's loss, it is this: Despite the recent run of Democratic successes in Colorado, the Centennial State is firmly purple, a swing state, and anyone who says otherwise is (legally) smoking something.
The Associated Press called the race at 10:27 p.m. Eastern time, a little more than an hour after polls closed. There was never any doubt about the outcome of New Mexico's gubernatorial race: Martinez, who is 55, never once trailed King in the polls, and she opened up a 15-point lead in the final days of the race. Central to her success was a huge money advantage. Her campaign outspent King's almost 7-to-1 in the final stretch, $2.4 million to $363,000. In their most recent campaign finance filings, Martinez reported having $708,693 on hand to King's $10,103.
King, the 60-year-old son of three-term New Mexico governor Bruce King, never found his footing as a candidate. In addition to failing to raise the funds needed to compete with Martinez and her allies including the Republican Governors Association, King cycled through three different campaign managers in two and a half years. One of them, Steve Verzwyvelt, resigned just days into the job after the Washington Free Beaconhighlighted a series of offensive tweets he'd sent out.
Perhaps the most attention paid to the New Mexico governor's race on the national level occurred in the wake of Mother Jones' April cover story on Martinez. Exclusive audio recordings, private emails, and other documents painted Martinez and her aides as vindictive, petty, and nasty, and her opponents sought to use the comments against her during the campaign. The attacks, however, did little to diminish her political standing.
But Martinez, who has repeatedly ruled out a run for vice president or president, is not entirely in the clear. In describing the paranoia of her team, the Mother Jones story on Martinez included this passage:
Martinez's crew saw enemies everywhere. A former staffer recalls the campaign on multiple occasions sending the license plate numbers of cars believed to be used by opposition trackers to an investigator in Martinez's DA office who had access to law enforcement databases. In one instance, a campaign aide took a photo of a license plate on a car with an anti-Martinez bumper sticker and emailed it to the investigator. "Cool I will see who it belongs to!!" the investigator replied.
That reporting, as well as the work of the Santa Fe Reporter, set off a chain of events that ultimately led to the state attorney general's office opening a criminal investigation into potential destruction of state records by a close friend of Martinez's who succeeded her as New Mexico's Third Judicial district attorney in 2011 and 2012. The investigation is ongoing.
Jeremy Bird guided Barack Obama to victory in Ohio in 2008, a year, Bird recalls, when "we didn't see lines and barriers and obstacles" to the ballot box that had so badly marred Ohio's previous presidential election. But as Obama's national field director in 2012, Bird watched Ohio with dismay. Voting in Ohio had gotten harder—lines were longer, early voting days pared back, evening hours restricted—but no laws had changed since 2008. So what had happened? Bird says he knows the culprit: Republican Jon Husted, Ohio's secretary of state. As the state's chief election officer, Husted has considerable latitude to shape election rules and expand—or limit—access to the ballot box.
On Election Day this year, Bird is again watching secretaries of state. This time around, Bird is the head of iVote, a group that is targeting secretary of state races in four key battleground states—Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, and Ohio. And with good reason: The results of these four races will have serious consequences for voting rights, and they might even help determine the winner of the 2016 presidential campaign.
Each of the four races iVote is targeting, Bird says, features a Democratic candidate seeking to expand voting rights and a Republican pledging—directly or indirectly—to do the opposite. Bird's group is spending more than $1.25 million on TV advertisements alone, in addition to online ads, grassroots organizing, and direct contributions to candidates where possible under state law.
Perhaps the Democrats' best shot at winning a key secretary of state race is in Nevada. There's no daylight in the polls between Democratic state Treasurer Kate Marshall and Republican state Sen. Barbara Cegavske, but there is plenty of space between their positions. Marshall backs same-day voter registration and greater transparency in political spending in state races. Cegavske, for her part, opposes those ideas and instead wants a new voter ID law. In 2011, Cegavske joined several other Nevada lawmakers in proposing a bill eliminating early voting, and she has voted against new campaign finance measures to beef up disclosure of money in politics.
In Colorado, outgoing Secretary of State Scott Gessler has probably garnered more headlines than his five predecessors combined—and not for reasons that a Democrat like Bird would appreciate. Gessler offered to raise money to help pay off fines incurred by the Larimer County Republican Party for not submitting required campaign finance filings. The problem: Gessler's office issued the fine. (He backed down the fundraising appearance.) A judge struck down Gessler's directive to county clerks to stop sending 2012 ballots to so-called inactive voters—namely, people who hadn't voted in the 2010 elections, which included troops stationed overseas. And in 2011, Gessler claimed that 5,000 "noncitizens" had voted in the 2010 elections. Colorado officials later vetted 1,400 of those names and found that 1,200 of those people were in fact eligible voters. (No prosecutions resulted from Gessler's allegation.)
The race to replace Gessler is close. Democrats are abuzz over the candidacy of Joe Neguse, a rising political star and the son of Eritrean immigrants, who has billed himself as the anti-Gessler. "I'm the guy running to clean up Scott Gessler's mess," he said in announcing his candidacy. But Neguse trails Republican Wayne Williams by single digits in polls. Williams, meanwhile, supports the type of voter ID law implemented by conservatives nationwide. Despite efforts by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and the Democratic-controlled state Legislature to expand voting rights with universal mail-in voting and same-day registration, a Republican secretary of state could throw a wrench in Colorado's voting system come 2016.
In Iowa, the race between Democrat Brad Anderson and Republican Paul Pate is a dead heat. Anderson, who managed Obama's Iowa campaign in 2012, has called for mail-in voting, no-excuse absentee voting, and online voter registration. Pate, Anderson's opponent, toes the GOP line in supporting a voter ID law, a divisive measure that Republicans say protects the integrity of elections and that Democrats say aims to disenfranchise college students and minorities.
Ohio's secretary of state race is likely to be Democrats' biggest disappointment of the four campaigns. The Democratic candidate, state Sen. Nina Turner, is probably the best known of the four iVote-backed candidates: She's a fixture on MSNBC, which named her one of its "Women Candidates to Watch in 2014," and her supporters include EMILY's List, Howard Dean, and talk-show host Jerry Springer. (At a recent debate in Columbus, Turner quoted Lyndon Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr., and Justin Timberlake—she said she wanted to "bring sexy back" to voting.)
For long stretches, Turner was neck and neck in the polls with Republican Jon Husted, whose restrictions on Ohio voting rights have enraged state and national Democrats. But Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald's implosion has dragged down the rest of the party's ticket, and in its final 2014 poll, the Columbus Dispatch showed Turner trailing by 21 percentage points.
To hear Jeremy Bird tell it, the consequences of these four secretary of state races could mean the difference between smooth, snafu-free elections in November 2016 and the type of debacles seen in Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004. iVote, Bird says, is a way of taking the fight to the "voter fraud" crowd seeking to limit the vote. "We need to be on the offensive with voting rights," he says. "We've relied on the courts for too long."