The greatest repudiation of a President and his Party in living memory continued on Wednesday, as incumbent Democrat Senator Mark Begich's refusal to concede gracefully came to naught, and a recount confirmed Dan Sullivan's 8,000-vote victory in Alaska. (As of Wednesday morning, Begich still hadn't formally conceded.) Senator Sullivan is the eighth Republican pickup in the 2014 wave election; the ninth will most likely arrive in Louisiana in early December.
Very few analysts, including those who were enthusiastic for the Republicans to take the Senate, predicted a +8 or +9 pickup, or the historic gains made in the House and gubernatorial elections. After their effort to pretend the election didn't count was cut off by an angry snarl from voters, Democrats have fallen back to a slightly less silly talking point about how the tough electoral map they faced in 2014 made this outcome all but inevitable. What a load of malarkey! Yes, the map was good for Republicans, and if they had fallen short of taking the Senate, the media action line today would be about how they had "underperformed" and the party was doomed, even if they picked up some seats. But now that there is no question about how they over-performed, the losers are going to try portraying the victory as an inevitable natural phenomenon, an avalanche that came roaring down from the high political mountains because somebody sneezed.
Don't buy that spin for a second, and be on guard for anyone in the GOP leadership looking like they might buy it. (So far, none of them really have, although they've made more pre-emptive concessions to the defeated President than they really needed to.) Remember, before the election, both Democrat political hacks and left-leaning analysts were confidently predicting the Republicans wouldn't gain control of the Senate. The best they were supposed to be able to hope for was a tie that would make Joe Biden the most powerful figure on Capitol Hill. And there was a good chance the would-be Republican Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, was going to lose his re-election bid. "Independents" were going to hand a couple of Republicans their hats after the Democrats gave up on their own non-starter candidates.
An "autopilot" result based on rusty political gears slowly making their inevitable turns would have given the Republicans 48 or 49 seats, a modest bump in the House, and none of the gubernatorial victories that blew everyone's minds last week. They'll probably have 54 when all is said and done, and came within a hair of having 55, if their strategists hadn't been fooled by bad polling into thinking Virginia wasn't worth more of a fight. There are a few Democrats who will vote with the Republicans, even if they don't switch parties outright, especially if the vote is one of those gut-check "doom in 2016" issues.
The voters are also making it extremely clear that they sent Republicans to Washington to halt the Obama agenda and change the course of the nation. Gallup just released a poll that said 53 percent of respondents wanted congressional Republicans to lead the nation, versus only 36 percent who preferred Obama. Both Democrats and Republicans should bear that in mind when they see a President in deep denial acting like the 2014 election didn't count, or listen to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi babble, "I do not believe what happened the other night is a wave. There was no wave of approval for the Republicans." The American people beg to differ with you, Mrs. Pelosi.
The next spin from the losers will be that Republicans have set themselves a trap by winning so big in 2014, because they've created expectations they'll never be able to meet. That's a self-fulfilling curse of doom that will only work if Republicans believe it. They have a fantastic opportunity to put Democrats on defense, without respite, for the next two years. Harry Reid no longer keeps the crypts of the Senate, so Republican bills can't be quietly murdered without media attention or political cost to the Democrats. Make the next two years an unending Democrat hell of filibuster and veto, and the voters will not only feel vindicated in their decision to elect a Republican Senate, they'll be receptive to the argument that only a Republican President can help them finish the job.
Dan Sullivan won a long, tough race that started with a three-way primary, taking a seat Begich won in what amounted to a freak accident, as recounted by the Washington Times:
The Alaska race was too close to call on Election Night last week, with Sullivan up by about 8,100 votes, but it became evident Tuesday when the state began counting about 20,000 of absentee and questioned ballots that Begich could not overcome Sullivan.
In a statement, Sullivan said he ran a campaign Alaskans could be proud of and, moving forward, ???I want to emphasize that my door will always be open to all Alaskans.???
???While we have challenges to address, the opportunities in Alaska and our country are limitless. Today, we are going to begin the process of turning our country around,??? he said.
Begich, who has returned to Washington for the lame-duck session, won office in 2008. That year, he went to bed on Election Night trailing a wounded but still powerful Sen. Ted Stevens, who days before the election had been found guilty by a jury in a federal corruption trial. About two weeks later, Stevens conceded, withBegich winning by fewer than 4,000 votes. A judge later tossed the case against Stevens, causing many Republicans to see Begich???s election as a fluke.
Fluke or not, he fought like a demon to hang on to that seat, culminating in a disgusting ad that tried to pin the murder of an elderly couple and sexual assault of their 2-year-old granddaughter on Sullivan, because he was supposedly "soft on crime" when he was the state Attorney General. Begich was forced to pull the ad, at the request of the family he was attempting to use as a political prop. And he didn't even pull the ad right away - Sullivan immediately halted airing of the ad he produced in response to Begich's attack, but the Democrat tried to keep his on the air with a few modifications. This is one of many pieces of toxic garbage desperate Democrats vomited upon the American electorate in 2014; none of these offenses should be either forgiven, or forgotten, just because they were ineffective.
So no, Dan Sullivan's win wasn't part of some automatic electoral-map circuitry that beeped and decided Republicans should hold the Senate for the next two years. He won. They all won. Now it's time for the Republicans to act like winners. The Democrats are doing a splendid job of acting like bitter losers.