Texas Democrats started the 2014 election cycle with a dream of turning the state blue for the first time in two decades, buoyed by a progressive hero on the ballot and an influx of outside cash and organizers. Instead, the nation's biggest red state just got even redder. On Tuesday, for the fifth consecutive cycle, Texas Republicans swept statewide offices, including the race for governor, where Republican attorney general Greg Abbott cruised past Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis.
It was Abbott who made the decision to hire now-Sen. Ted Cruz to be the state's first solicitor general, and it was Abbott—more so even than retiring Gov. Rick Perry—who epitomized his state's antagonistic relationship with Washington, suing the Obama administration no fewer than 27 times in his first five years. ("I go into the office, I sue Barack Obama, and then I go home," Abbott likes to tell Republican audiences.) Lest he be tempted to move to the center, voters also tapped state Sen. Dan Patrick to be his lieutenant governor, a position that's disproportionately powerful in Texas because it serves a dual legislative and executive function. Patrick has said that God speaks to the world through Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson, and warned that migrants are bringing "third-world diseases" with them across the border.
Winning in the Lone Star State was always supposed to be an uphill battle for Democrats in 2014, a point that Battleground Texas, the field-organizing outfit launched last spring by a group of Obama campaign volunteers, made clear from the get-go. When Davis jumped into the race, the time-frame shifted. As the group's executive director, Jenn Brown, told me in September, Davis' candidacy settled a chicken-and-egg dilemma that had been confounding organizers: "Great people don't want to run unless they feel there's an infrastructure to support them, but it's hard to get great infrastructure without great candidates."
But Davis—and Battleground—also had the effect of throwing a football at a hornet's nest. FreedomWorks, a conservative political outfit, launched an $8-million "Come and Take It" project last year designed to thwart Democratic gains. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who faced minimal Democratic resistance in his re-election bid this year, nonetheless asked for donations to combat "out-of-state organizers"—and "Keep it Red." (That's not to be confused with another group, "Let's Keep it Texas Red," which was formed before Cornyn's group but which per its campaign finance report exists mainly to sell t-shirts.) Even conservative provocateur James O'Keefe—recently seen crossing the border dressed as Osama Bin Laden—got in on the action, publishing a sting video purporting to show Battleground volunteers illegally cribbing phone numbers from voter registration rolls. (The practice is not illegal.)
No one took the threat more seriously than Abbott, who warned that Democratic groups constituted "an assault far more dangerous than what the leader of North Korea threatened when he said he was going to add Austin, Texas, as one of the recipients of his nuclear weapons." He walked the walk, too, making repeated visits to heavily Hispanic, heavily Democratic South Texas in the hopes of offsetting any gains the Davis campaign hoped it could make.
What do Blackwater's founder, Koch Industries, and Mitt Romney have in common? They've all been represented by Northern Virginia's newest congresswoman.
Republican Barbara Comstock cruised to victory on Tuesday, easing past Fairfax County supervisor John Foust in a suburban DC district. Comstock will replace retiring GOP Rep. Frank Wolf, for whom she once worked as an aide. You'll be hearing a lot more from her.
Electing Comstock—a veteran of two Romney campaigns, the Bush White House, and the Clinton wars—was personal for establishment Republicans. As I reported in an April profile, she got her start as an investigator on the House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee in the 1990s, carving out a reputation as one of the Clintons' most obsessive critics. She parlayed her work as opposition-research guru for George W. Bush's first campaign into a job as a spokeswoman for Attorney General John Ashcroft. She then moved into crisis PR, where she repped clients such as Blackwater founder Erik Prince and disgraced Cheney aide Scooter Libby. From there, she moved on to lobbying, on behalf of companies like Koch Industries and the private prison giant GEO Group. If liberals were upset about it in the 2000s, chances are Barbara Comstock was involved somehow.
Although the 10th district leans red, Democratic groups poured more than $1.2 million into the race in the hopes of expanding on their gains in an increasingly blue state. Dismissing Comstock's work in DC, Foust said of his opponent, "I don't even think she's had a real job." In response, Republicans flooded the airwaves with ads like this one, slamming Foust as a hurtful misogynist:
The ad doesn't quite get it right—Foust was attacking all women in the same way that Republicans who insist President Barack Obama never held a real job are attacking all men.
But the sexism narrative obscured a larger trend that Comstock's victory helps solidify—the Beltwayification of Northern Virginia. Consider that Virginia's new Democratic governor was a Democratic National Committee chair and fundraising guru; Virginia's junior senator, Tim Kaine, was a DNC chair*; Virginia's GOP Senate nominee, Ed Gillespie, was a former Republican National Committee chair and high-powered lobbyist from the DC suburbs; George Allen, Virginia's GOP Senate nominee in 2012, was a lobbyist from the DC suburbs. Foust's mistake wasn't misogyny; it was forgetting that lobbyists are people too—especially in McLean, Virginia.
*Correction: This story originally stated that Kaine is from the DC suburbs; he is from Richmond.
GOP Rep. Tom Cotton defeated two-term Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor on Tuesday, bringing Republicans one step closer to winning control of the Senate. Cotton hammered Pryor repeatedly on Obamacare, which remains deeply unpopular in Arkansas even though the legislation has helped hundreds of thousands of residents get health insurance.
But it's foreign policy where Cotton could make his biggest impact in the Senate. "Groups like the Islamic State collaborate with drug cartels in Mexico who have clearly shown they're willing to expand outside the drug trade into human trafficking and potentially even terrorism," Cotton said during a September tele-town hall. "They could infiltrate our defenseless border and attack us right here in places like Arkansas." Three weeks later, he put his money where his mouth was, airing an ad featuring footage pulled straight from an ISIS propaganda film called Flames of War.
This is what you can expect more of from Cotton, an Army veteran who first rose to fame after writing a letter to the editor of the New York Times demanding that everyone who worked on a story on a top-secret terrorist tracking program be tried for treason. During his brief tenure in the House of Representatives, he was one of the few House Republicans to vocally back an intervention in Syria.
Over the last four years, civil libertarians and non-interventionists have made big gains in the GOP, led by congressional newcomers like Michigan Rep. Justin Amash. But Cotton's win marks a victory for the neo-cons—a young voice with a good-looking resume who should be in Washington for a while. Just take a look at former Texas Rep. Ron Paul's reaction:
Republican control of the Senate = expanded neocon wars in Syria and Iraq. Boots on the ground are coming!
It was Cotton who rose to speak against Amash's 2013 amendment that would have curtailed the NSA's surveillance powers. "We are at war," he said. "You may not like that truth, I wish it weren't the truth, but it is the truth. We are at war. Do not take away this tool from our warriors on the front lines."
Among Beltway conservative scribes, Cotton's political arc has taken on an almost singular importance, with writers at places like the Weekly Standard salivating over his small-town credentials in True Grit country. As I reported when I visited Cotton's hometown of Dardanelle in September, I found the local hero in Yell County isn't Cotton; it's fourth-district Democratic nominee James Lee Witt. But it didn't matter. Mark Pryor voted for Obamacare, he probably voted for Obama, and now he's looking for work.
Anyway, here's your next Senator from Arkansas eating a watermelon:
Illustration: Thomas Nast/Library of Congress; Scott Brown: Seamas Culligan/ZUMA
Former Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown's comeback bid hit a wall on Tuesday, as he failed to unseat New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. More than perhaps any other Senate candidate, Brown based his campaign on border security, warning that ISIS agents could enter the country at ease, and that migrants could bring diseases (including, maybe, Ebola) across the Southern border. At one point, he even merged the two, warning that ISIS terrorists might smuggle in Ebola across the Mexican border.
It didn't work. According to exit polls, 54 percent of New Hampshire voters thought Brown hadn't been in New Hampshire long enough to represent it in Washington. (For what it's worth, we think that's kind of unfair.) So where should Brown run next? There are still four New England states he hasn't tried. But these areas don't offer much opportunity. The Granite State is the last Yankee state to vote for a Republican presidential candidate—and that was in 2000.
Update: Check the end of each item in this pre-election roundup to see what happened.
Elections have consequences—even when no one seems to be paying much attention to them. On Tuesday, voters will settle 33 Senate elections and 36 governors' races, and determine just how big of a majority Speaker of the House John Boehner will have to work with in the 114th Congress. They'll also resolve dozens of lower-profile races and ballot initiatives with a direct and almost immediate impact on everything from what kind of pastries you can feed to bears to what kinds of savings you can stash in your bank account.
While you wait on Waukesha County, here's a quick look at some other issues the midterms will decide:
Whether a person can buy a drink in this place: Over the last half decade, voters in Arkansas have slowly chipped away at the number of counties in the state that forbid alcohol sales. That number stands at 35 (out of 75). Ballot question 4 would eliminate dry counties entirely. Opponents, primarily liquor retailers in wet counties who don't want to lose market share, have ponied up almost $2 million to oppose it, and an October poll showed the proposal trailing by double digits. But expect the drip-drip to continue. Through a group called Our Community, Our Profits, Walmart has spent $1.4 million to repeal a dry ban in Saline County, which includes much of the suburbs around Little Rock. Result: Opponents of the statewide measure are celebrating its loss today—presumably with boring fruit punch.