The 5 marquee races of the 2018 midterm elections: Today’s talker

The midterm elections produced a split decision: Democrats gained control of the House of Representatives, and Republicans increased their hold on the Senate. Here are takes on 5 marquee races around the country:

1. Is Beto the new Barack?

By Liz Wolfe

In a tight race, incumbent Ted Cruz beat challenger, and liberal news media darling, Beto O’Rourke by three percentage points last night in the Texas Senate contest.

When the election started, O’Rourke was hardly known outside of West Texas. He had served a few terms in the House, representing El Paso, and his father was a well-connected judge in the area. But O’Rourke was by no means a household name statewide. Now, many people believe he’s the new Barack Obama, angling for a presidential run in 2020 — a young, fresh-faced orator who gives people hope that politicians don’t have to be slimy or sycophantic.

O’Rourke has two major issues that might impede a future campaign.

First, he failed to appeal to enough moderates and conservatives, meaning he must rely on sheer numbers of progressives alone.

As he claimed at his most recent rally a few blocks away from my house, in an ultra-progressive, gentrifying neighborhood in East Austin, “If you’re a Republican, you’re in the right place.” But he did very little to show that any component of his platform would indeed represent Republicans.

Talker: Latino voters were the ones to watch on election night

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His unity message felt flimsy — throughout the campaign, he was relying mostly on an ultra-progressive agenda predicated on abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement and impeaching President Donald Trump, with a side of protecting abortion rights and restricting which types of guns can be purchased. Tactically speaking, that strategy doesn’t work very well in Texas.

O’Rourke felt like the elitist candidate, to a degree, supported by recent transplants to Texas who live in Austin or San Antonio but are afraid to venture into other parts of Texas.

Second, O’Rourke’s voters might not be as consistently progressive and principled as he thinks — many voters split their tickets, voting for both O’Rourke and incumbent Republican Gov. Greg Abbott. It will be interesting to tease out whether O’Rourke’s relative success was partially because he’s new blood and likable enough, compared to snobbish Ted Cruz, or because Texas voters are actually interested in far-left policies.

It will also be interesting to get more reliable data on who the O’Rourke voter archetype is. Are they Texas lifers, or are they transplants who are more likely to move out of state by the time the next election rolls around? Could O’Rourke appeal to both? And would O’Rourke’s ability to garner disproportionate amounts of news media attention bode better for him in a national race than a statewide one?

Liz Wolfe is deputy managing editor at The Federalist. You can follow her on Twitter: @lizzywol.

2. Georgia’s gubernatorial race

Renée Graham,  The Boston Globe: “Georgia’s gubernatorial race wasn’t an election. It was an attempted strong-arm robbery. That’s because Brian Kemp — both the Republican candidate and, as secretary of state, the man running the elections — used every cheap, dirty, and probably illegal trick in the book to rig his tight contest against Democrat Stacey Abrams. If Abrams wins, she’ll make history as this nation’s first African-American woman governor. If Kemp wins, he’ll make history for engineering the most blatantly racist voter suppression tactics since the vicious days of poll taxes and so-called literacy tests.”

3. Florida’s gubernatorial race

John Romano, Tampa Bay Times: “This election was a referendum on President Donald Trump’s presidency. And judging by the number of congressional seats flipped, much of the nation decided to send Trump a stern warning. Not in Florida. Ron DeSantis, your new governor, ran a campaign that was comically bereft of vision or details. And it didn’t matter. He beat a more charismatic candidate. He beat a candidate who had led in most of the polls. … He basically beat Andrew Gillum by running on the platform that Trump can do no wrong. That was the theme of his earliest ads, and that seemed to be the opinion of his supporters.”

4. Indiana’s senatorial race

Tim Swarens,  The Indianapolis Star: “How did Mike Braun win a Senate seat? Here are three reasons why Indiana’s new senator-elect prevailed: He’s loyal to the president: In the GOP primary, Braun competed against U.S. Reps. Luke Messer and Todd Rokita in a spirited contest to show who would be the biggest supporter of Donald Trump’s agenda. He nationalized the race: Braun and Republicans charged incumbent Sen. Joe Donnelly with being more in sync with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer than with regular Hoosiers. That accusation served two purposes: It put Donnelly on the defensive and it tied him to a party that on the national level moved further to the left in this election cycle. He’s a mainstream Republican: As much as Braun promoted his support of Trump, it also became clear during the campaign that he was largely a mainstream Republican, in the mold of Hoosier senators such as Dan Coats and Todd Young.”

5. Tennessee’s senatorial race

Alex Hubbard,  The Tennessean: “U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, long the scourge not just of liberals but also of moderate conservatives, capped off her fiery run for the Senate with a resounding victory over former Gov. Phil Bredesen. … Still, the challenge remains with Blackburn. It’s always disappointing to see a candidate depend on half-truths and obfuscation to win a political race. It’s time to see another side of her. Blackburn the Senator should be calm, thoughtful and interested in solving problems. She will not be (Bill) Frist or Bredesen or even (Bob) Corker and that’s fine, but she can be a senator for Tennessee. The Senate is ‘totally dysfunctional,’ she said back in that campaign announcement, and that’s true. Making it function again will be her job. Done, we hope, honestly and thoughtfully.”

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