Op-Ed

With victory, the duty to lead

FERRÉ
FERRÉ

How historic was the midterm election of 2014? Democrats were beaten far beyond what polls suggested, with Republicans making extraordinary gains at every level of government.

Republicans have the largest majority in the U.S. House of Representatives in 86 years; they gained seven Senate seats to take over the majority with the possibility of winning two more when the final votes are counted. They made inroads in states that rarely vote conservative, winning the governorships of Maryland, Massachusetts and Illinois.

Republicans are even beginning to diversify their candidates and leaders. In South Carolina, Tim Scott became the first Southern African-American senator to win election since Reconstruction: He is Republican. Utah elected Mia Love, the state’s first African-American Republican congresswoman-elect. Two Republican women who won on Tuesday stand out for their intelligence and age: Elise Stefanik, 30, became the youngest woman in history elected to Congress, while Saira Blair, elected to the West Virginia Legislature, will, at 18, be the youngest lawmaker in America. They both won by double digits.

In Florida, the story is similar. Republicans scored big starting with Gov. Rick Scott, who won re-election by a slim margin, but a larger margin than in 2010. Republicans also made significant gains in the state House and congressional District 26 returns to Republican hands with the decisive victory of Carlos Curbelo over Joe Garcia.

In most of these races, Republicans ran smarter campaigns and had better candidates, something that apparently caught Democrats off guard because they ran their campaigns as if the tea party was a factor: It wasn’t. Nearly all tea party candidates lost their political bids in the primary elections, but Democrats failed to catch on, thinking that the GOP brand was so damaged that no one would pay attention to the individual. They were wrong.

Republicans ran stronger grassroots campaigns and gained ground in social-media campaigning as well. It made a difference. Republicans also were helped by the fact that President Obama’s policies and agenda were on the table, and the majority voted for change.

It is difficult for many to feel grateful for Obama’s economic policies; on a macroeconomic level the numbers look wonderful, but on a microeconomic level the feeling is dismal. Median household incomes have fallen for nearly all groups, with African Americans and Hispanics faring worse. The fact that more than 46 million Americans depend on food stamps and that many states might need to expand Medicaid, a program for the poor, demonstrates that poverty rates are increasing. How can that be good?

With two years left in Obama’s White House, Republican leaders are fired up and say that they are ready to take action. But it will be difficult to work with a president who has done little to find common ground with his political counterparts. John Boehner and Mitch McConnell can show leadership by working together to pass legislation that emphasizes job growth, greater energy independence and immigration reform.

One thing this election shows: Americans love divided government, but they also detest gridlock. Most would rather see Washington compromise on issues rather than do nothing based on a misguided sense of principle. The election was indeed about stunning change, but perhaps it was more about taking a more common-sense approach to politics and governing than what we have experienced in recent years.

One can predict Obama will stick to partisan politics but he only has two years left in office, while Republicans have an opportunity to lead and perhaps even successfully support a candidate who can win the White House in 2016. This election, however, is no reflection on a presidential election. More women, blacks and Hispanics vote in presidential races than in midterms, where the majority of voters are non-Hispanic whites. The GOP truly has to do more to expand its base further among those voters longing for better policies that will help them share in the American Dream.

The Nov. 4 election results were stunning, but most Americans have short attention spans. Few have patience for adults behaving like spoiled children on Capitol Hill and in the White House. They will expect members of both parties to roll up their sleeves and govern accordingly. It is the responsibility that comes with winning an election, and voters deserve their best efforts.

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