Recapping the Midterms: The Obama Brand Sucks

It was a tough Election Day for the President and his party.

Last week, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul issued a unique characterization of his own party just days before the midterm elections when he said that the Republican brand sucks.

He elaborated on the GOP’s branding problems on the Sunday show circuit, including this appearance on CNN’s State of the Union.

“When I say the brand sucks, and we need to recognize it, it’s that [in] certain segments of our population… our brand is so broken that we can’t get through the wall that’s out there.”

Paul went on to argue that the ideas Republicans advocate are popular amongst broader populations of voters, including those typically difficult for the GOP to reach like African-Americans and Hispanics.

In the aftermath of the midterm elections, Paul could say the same thing about Barack Obama.

Obama used the waning days of the midterms to remind voters that even if he wasn’t on the ballot, his policies were, as were the candidates that vote with him and support his agenda. Issues like raising the minimum wage are popular amongst broader populations of voters, including those typically difficult for Democrats to reach like older, white men.

But it was the Obama brand that likely sealed the fate for Democrats all over the ballot Tuesday night.

For months, Republican Senate candidates pressed voters that these midterms should be a repudiation of the President’s failures in leadership and management of the federal government. To them, Barack Obama was on the ballot, running alongside each Democratic candidate for Senate.

As the midterms arrived, pundits and pollsters were reluctant to predict that 2014 was a Republican wave. Instead, it was likely that Republicans would make a splash by winning mostly in red states. While voters were disillusioned with an unpopular president, they were equally frustrated with House Republicans. Punishing the President shouldn’t be seen as rewarding the GOP.

But the flood gates opened up as voters did reward the GOP in both expected and unexpected places. In Iowa, voters opted to replace retiring progressive stalwart Tom Harkin with an upstart Tea Party Republican in Joni Ernst. In Colorado, a state Obama won twice, voters chose House Republican Cory Gardner to fill their Senate seat and remained undecided on retaining their Democratic Governor. NBC pegs this race too close to call, giving incumbent John Hickenlooper an 8,000 vote lead over challenger Bob Beauprez.

Democrats also performed poorly in the South where they were seen to have some momentum in the closing days. North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan lost her seat to the state’s House Speaker Thom Tillis. In Georgia, Democrats were surprisingly competitive in pre-election polls. Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter looked poised to throw races for a red state’s Senate and gubernatorial seats into runoffs. Both lost by about 200,000 votes.

Lastly, incumbent Governors from both sides were on the defensive headed into Election Day. However, Republicans succeeded in reelecting four polarizing figures in Wisconsin, Maine, Kansas and the aforementioned Georgia by relatively comfortable margins. Democrats faced steeper challenges as they squeaked out wins in deep blue states like Vermont and Connecticut. In the biggest surprise of election night, two other deep blue states, Maryland and Massachusetts, opted for Republican Governors to replace term-limited Democrats.

An early morning call of the bitterly fought Florida gubernatorial race in favor of Rick Scott capped a Republican sweep of the nation’s Governors mansions.

In the end, President Obama bet that injecting himself was the Democrats’ best hope of avoiding a landslide defeat. But the President failed to push turnout among his coalition of the ascendant (women, minorities, and young voters) to presidential year levels.

An older, whiter electorate sealed the Democrats fate and left Obama to deal with a Republican Congress in his last two years occupying the White House. Maybe on his way to negotiate with new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Obama can stop by Rand Paul’s office to discuss brand management.

Kyle Hayes

Kyle is a recent graduate from the MPP program at American University. During his time at AU, he focused on health care policy including work on Medicaid expansion and Health Insurance Marketplace issues related to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Kyle currently works as a Project Associate at the American Institutes for Research where he promote's AIR's research on education issues. Kyle is also interested in economic policy as it impacts low-income families and the structural political forces that shape modern political and public policy debates. He grew up in Atlanta, Georgia and is a graduate of the University of Georgia. He shares in two of the state's proudest obsessions: southern politics and Georgia Bulldog football.