US Mid-term Elections – A Shake Up of the Status-Quo?


November had been quite the month for political events. The usual Brexit drama aside, the headlines were full of the events from across the pond. Yes, the US mid-term elections were quite something. But now that the excitement has boiled over, let’s talk – what actually happened?

What are the mid-terms?

A good few weeks after the elections, you might still find yourself wondering – what are the mid-term elections? The term is self-explanatory. The mid-term elections happen halfway through the sitting president’s term. Due to this, the elections are usually understood as a referendum on the current administration’s performance. Considering the continued (or seemingly never ceasing) controversies of the White House reaching us through our twitter feeds, these mid-term elections had been much anticipated.

What was at stake?

The election includes a huge number of contests all the way from small-town mayoral races and county sheriffs, to congressional seats. The congressional contest, including elections for all 435 seats in the House of Representatives, and a third of seats in the Senate tends to be the one most talked about. The simple reason is this – the public can swing the House, the Senate, or both out of control of the present party in power. This year, as both the congress and the presidential seats are held by the Republicans, the public had the opportunity to swing the congress in Democratic favour. This would allow the Democrats to pull the breaks on Trump’s policies, as well as pursue investigations into his business conduct, perhaps even start the impeachment process.  

What were the results?

In the House, Democrats secured 232 seats (up from 195), and the Republicans only 198 (down from 240). This gave the Democratic caucus control of the House. In the Senate however, the balance is deceiving. Despite the Republicans holding a majority by 2 seats, the complexity of Senate elections makes it a more difficult chamber to swing.  

The Senate races are determined depending on which state’s seats are up for re-election. The difficulty here is that the Democrats were defending 26 out of 35 Senate seats currently held. Many of the seats they were defending are in states that have voted Tump in 2016. Thus, for Democrats to take over the Senate they would have had to have near perfect run, plus make gains on the few seats up for run on the Republican side. The Republicans however need only to defend their own. In fact, the Republicans have increased their majority in the Senate, gaining one additional seat.

Breaking Records:

The voter turnout was up 32 per cent from the 2014 election. The campaigns and fundraisers were also exponentially more expensive than any previous year. Many high-profile candidates poured tens of millions of dollars into their campaigns, otherwise unprecedented amounts for a non-presidential election. Candidates like Beto O’Rourke have broken records by raising as much as 38 million dollars from individual donors in the third quarter of 2018.

These Women Can:

A historic number of women ran and won in their bid for congressional seats. Female candidates won the primaries to become their parties’ nominees in staggering numbers:  235 women won the primaries in 2018, comprising 45 per cent of the overall primaries for House races. This is a record-breaking number, dwarfing the number of women whom won their primaries in 2014 (167). It was, however, women of colour were the real champions of the election. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez presented a stunning victory when she unseated a powerful 10-term New York congressman, and went on to become the youngest congresswoman at the age of 29. Viva Garcia and Veronica Escobar will be Texas’ fist Latina women in Congress. This is a significant achievement, as 40 per cent of Texas’ population are Latinos, yet this is the first year a Latina representative in Congress has been elected.  For Massachusetts, Ayanna Pressley will be the first black congresswoman. This democratic candidate ran unopposed after she’d beaten a powerful 10-term Republican candidate in the primaries. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar have become the first Muslim women elected to Congress, both securing a seat in the House. Ilhan Omar is also the first woman to wear a hijab, as well as the fist Somali-American woman in Congress. She is set to represent Minnesota’s 5th district after winning a whopping 78 per cent of the vote. Tlaib is set to represent Michigan’s 13th. Deb Haaland, a member of New Mexico’s Laguna Pueblo tribe is one of the first Native American women elected to Congress. The other is Sharice Davids, a member of the Ho-Chnk Nation whom defeated a four-term republican incumbent. Davids, also a lesbian, will also be the first openly gay person to represent Kansas in the House. Young Kim, a Republican, will become the first Korean American woman in Congress after running a tight race against Democrat Gil Cisernos, representing California’s 39th District. In Connecticut, Jahana Hayes is the first black woman elected in her home state to the House of Representatives. Finally, representing women of colour, Lou Leon Guerrero will become the fist woman to govern the US island territory of Guam.

LGBTQ+ Success:

Besides aforementioned Davis becoming the fist LBTQ person representing Kansas, Jared Polis will become the fist openly gay man to be elected as a governor of a US state. The Democrat, winning the governor race in Colorado – the home state of the vice-president Mike Pence. After much anticipation, Kirsten Synema beat her republican opponent Martha McSally in the race for the Senate seat for Arizona. She will be this first openly bisexual senator, the first female senator representing Arizona, as well as the first Democrat representing Arizona in roughly 30 years. Other firsts, despite Taylor Swift’s best efforts to promote Tennessee’s Democrat Phil Bredesen, will include the historical election of Republican Marsha Blackburn – the first woman to represent Tennessee in the Senate.

These results bear huge significance to the shape and face of the US political representation. Diverse candidates representing both parties, but clearly – more diverse on the Democratic side, are seriously shaking the elder white-male dominated status-quo of US politics. A significant part of this reshaping is facilitated by a new movement within the Democratic party – the Justice Democrats – which champions progressive candidates that refuse corporate PAC money, socialized healthcare and free college education. Justice Democrats candidates this season include Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ilohan Omar of Minnesota, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. These candidates, and all the others mentioned represent a huge change in the US political landscape in America. For the first time since Trump’s election, women and minorities may be able to breathe a little bit easier. If these US mid-term elections have taught us anything, it is that there is nothing more powerful than your vote.

[Tanya Gersiova]

[Image credit: Darron Birgenheier/Flickr.com]

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