What will all this mean tomorrow?

Eight Reasons I Care About This Election

Megan McArdle is a Bloomberg View columnist. She wrote for the Daily Beast, Newsweek, the Atlantic and the Economist and founded the blog Asymmetrical Information. She is the author of "“The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success.”
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Tomorrow, I'm pretty sure that Republicans will have won back control of the Senate. I'm also pretty sure that lots of people will be talking about what President Barack Obama and the Republicans can get done over the next few years. Spoiler: No matter what arguments people make, the correct answer is "virtually nothing." The overlap between Obama's agenda and the Republican agenda is practically a null set. And even if they wanted to do stuff, there's no money to do anything other than piddle around the edges of policy. Most of that piddling will be done at the administrative level, where actions do not require a cost score from the Congressional Budget Office. Republicans will spend most of their time posturing, rejecting judicial appointments and scheming to make Obama veto popular ideas, such as repealing the individual mandate.

Nonetheless, I am interested in this election. Here's why:

  1. It's a good test of the Democratic strategy for rallying female voters. Over the last few elections, Democrats have become more enamored of the idea that women, particularly young single women, are a major voting bloc for them, and that these women can be brought to the polls in droves by reproductive rights issues. This certainly helped them in races where a Republican candidate said something stunningly stupid about rape, but this election cycle, the Republican Party seems to have coached even its minor league candidates into shutting up about women who get pregnant as a result of rape. Can Roe v. Wade bring women to the polls absent a horrific Republican gaffe?

    Not in Texas, where abortion-rights heroine Wendy Davis seems to be a no-hoper in her run for governor. But hey, that's Texas. What about a nice purple district, perhaps the state of Colorado? Incumbent Mark Udall has focused his campaign almost exclusively on reproductive rights, trying to frame his opponent as an anti-abortion nut who wants to ban birth control. His strategy was so over the top that people started calling him "Senator Uterus," and the Denver Post rewarded his opponent with a surprise endorsement.

    Cory Gardner rejoindered with a proposal to make birth control over-the-counter, a strategy that future Republicans will undoubtedly add to their playbook, if they haven't already. Will that neutralize the "Republicans are anti-woman" thrust of recent Democratic campaigns? Of course, even if Gardner wins, Democrats can claim that a focus on abortion rights is still very effective, just not in quite such large doses. But I think that Colorado provides a good test of that. Do young women come out to the polls for Udall? If they don't, it's probably time to rethink Democratic reliance on this strategy going forward.
  2. What about immigration? I agree with Ross Douthat that immigration reform is not as big a vote getter as politicians and activists on both sides of the aisle like to think. But I also agree with Douthat that Scott Brown's campaign in New Hampshire looks like a good test of this theory. If Brown pulls out an upset in New Hampshire, two of the most plausible diagnoses are 1) catch a wave and 2) liberalizing immigration can be a good issue for Republicans to run against. That's going to inform 2016, obviously. It also probably spells doom for any sort of legislative fix, and possibly even the much-promised sweeping executive action, unless Obama is sheerly indifferent to the fate of his party.
  3. What happens to North Carolina? If Kay Hagan goes down, there's a good possibility that Scott Brown will also take out Jean Shaheen, and we'll be on the crest of an honest-to-God Republican wave. That will have a number of interesting impacts, starting with making it harder for Democrats to retake the Senate in 2016, even if they win the White House. Note: I am not predicting a Republican wave, just saying that if I see Shaheen or Hagan unexpectedly fall, I'll expect to see strong Republican victories in states such as Iowa and Kansas.
  4. Whither the famous Democratic get-out-the-vote operation? How powerful is it when Obama is not on the ticket? Are they getting more minorities, young people and women to the polls than you'd expect? We had some evidence on this in 2010, of course; this will provide more in what looks to be a less disastrous year for Democrats.
  5. How's the youth vote going? For most of them, the answer is, of course, "home, without voting." But I'm still interested to see whether the folks who do come out lean Democrat or Republican. Polls have suggested that Obama's sweeping win of young people in 2008 is waning. Has that trend continued? Or are young voters -- as in, young people who actually show up at a polling station -- growing fonder of the president, and his party, as the economy has improved somewhat?
  6. What difference does early voting make? More voters? Different voters? Or just the same people, voting earlier?
  7. How does the public feel about public-sector union bashing? In other words: Can Wisconsin progressives unseat Scott Walker, or is most of the public fine with taking on a powerful constituency such as teachers? If Walker wins, Republicans may feel a little more empowered to take on public-sector unions directly (maybe not really photogenic ones such as cops and firefighters, but the others, anyway). If he loses, they'll probably think twice.
  8. Where's our Eric Cantor, Harry Reid, what-the-hey-pollsters race? We got a big surprise when Reid kept his seat in 2012, and another when Cantor lost his in the Virginia Republican primary. Will we have another "Wow, didn't see that one coming" moment, and if so, where? Will it tell us anything about the reliability of our polls, or will it just be one of those befuddling and amusing surprises that keep campaign strategists shaking their heads for the next decade?

Stay tuned to find out!

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Megan McArdle at mmcardle3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Brooke Sample at bsample1@bloomberg.net