Blue President, Blue Mayors and Red Everything Else

President Barack Obama has discovered that it's lonely for a Democrat at the top. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Tuesday’s post explored the theory that Republican voters are dying at a rate that jeopardizes their chances of winning the next presidential election. (See “The GOP and the End of the World as We Know It.”) It’s only fair to point out the Republican Party is doing phenomenally well at other levels of government. Democrats have won the popular vote in five of the past six presidential elections, and they dominate mayoral elections in major cities, but they’re flopping around everywhere else.

RealClearPolitics’ Sean Trende and David Byler argued this week that “The GOP Is the Strongest It’s Been in Decades.” The 2014 midterm elections, they write, left Republicans with almost unprecedented power: “Their 54 Senate seats represent the second-best tally for the party since 1928. Their 247 House seats is the most the party has won since 1928…. At the state level, the GOP’s share of governorships is the ninth-highest since Reconstruction, and the third-highest in the post-war era (1996 and 1998 were higher). The party’s showing in state legislatures is the highest since 1920, the ninth-highest ever, and the third-highest since the end of Reconstruction.”

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Don’t obsess over the presidency, Trende and Byler write: “One need only look at fights over voter identification laws, redistricting, food stamp benefits, Obamacare expansion, and a multitude of other battles from the last few years alone to understand the importance of non-federal elections.”

The importance of non-federal elections is indeed something that Democratic voters often overlook. Younger voters, the same ones giving Democrats an edge in recent presidential races, are not as likely to notice or take part in off-year elections—in many cases, because they haven’t lived in their towns or legislative districts for long. And many Democrats are clustered in New York, Washington, and a few other major cities where the media find it hard to look away from national politics.

That clustering is another reason why the Democrats face such a daunting task in winning back the House of Representatives; because so many of their votes are “wasted” in urban areas, they can lose most seats even when they win the national popular vote. This realization is not good for morale among House Democrats.

“Most members don’t want to come to caucus or whip meetings,” Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio tells the New York Times’ Robert Draper. “I think some of them see the House as a quagmire, and they want to find a way out.” This “quagmire” perception could make it harder for the Democrats to recruit good candidates, and to keep talented members where they are. The Times story mentions that the retirement of U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland has prompted two rising stars in the Democratic House caucus—Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards—to abandon their seats and run for higher office. (Rumor had it that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi considered Van Hollen an acceptable successor in her post.)

There are policy as well as personnel implications to the idea that Democrats can win the White House but are locked out of a congressional majority. One is more action at the municipal level, as evidenced by successful campaigns to raise the minimum wage in the Democratic-led cities of San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, and now, it appears, Los Angeles. While President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats have not been able to increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour, the Los Angeles minimum wage will rise to $15 by 2020.

Frustrated by Republican control of both Capitol Hill and most state legislatures, many who favor more activist government are turning to city halls to promote renewable energy, tighten gun restrictions, and ban discrimination against gays and lesbians, among other measures. Some Republican-controlled states are fighting back. Texas has banned municipal governments from banning fracking, and Arizona now prohibits cities from banning plastic bags. With both political parties entrenched at different levels of government, such turf warfare is bound to increase.

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