The 2014 Elections and What Will They Mean

Could a Republican takeover of the U.S. Senate make it easier for President Obama to get things done? Republican businesswoman Gwendolyn King, president of the Podium Prose speakers bureau and a former Social Security commissioner, thinks it’s possible.

Republicans already control the House. Conventional wisdom posits that gaining a lock on both chambers of Congress would make it even more difficult for President Obama to carry out his agenda in the final years of his second term.

Gwendolyn King isn’t so sure. Addressing the 2014 SVIA Spring Seminar, Mrs. King said that if the GOP takes the Senate, Obama could indeed wield his veto pen regularly, extending the political gridlock that has gripped Washington. Or he could move toward the center of the political spectrum in a bid to find common ground with Republicans, move some key legislative initiatives forward, and develop his legacy.

That sort of compromise isn’t impossible, King insisted. “Bill Clinton, even when he was impeached by the Republicans, found a way to work out a budget deal and to do reform on Welfare,” she said. “It happened with George Bush as well. And it happened with Ronald Reagan when he and Tip O’Neil got together and worked out a budget deal and reform of Social Security.”

King said she thinks it is “almost a slam dunk” that Republicans will win majority control of the Senate this year, although she conceded that the party has found ways to lose seemingly winnable elections in the recent past.

Colbert King, a Democrat, Pulitzer-Prize-winning Washington Post columnist and Gwendolyn King’s husband, isn’t convinced that his party is about to relinquish the reins of the Senate. Joining her on the SVIA stage, he reminded his audience that “in politics, overnight is a lifetime. The way things look today may not be the way things will become [in] November.” While Republicans have been hammering Democrats over the new healthcare law, for example, King noted that more than eight million people have signed up for health insurance under the law and that public sentiment seems to be shifting in favor of President Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment. “It has a growing number of supporters, which tends to neutralize the opposition that Republicans would mount against it,” King said. He also noted that it’s impossible to predict what might happen in countries outside the U.S. between now and the November midterms that could alter the prospects for either party.

Assuming Republicans do prevail in the Senate, Gwendolyn King said, immigration reform could be the most likely starting point for compromise. “That’s an issue where both sides want to do something,” she said. “Republicans recognize they are demographically challenged. We simply are losing the battle for voters, and have to bring more women and minorities into our ranks. How is that going to happen? Certainly not with the large Latino population in the United States—unless something is done on immigration.

“On the other hand,” she continued, “there’s a legitimate question of why should we (Republicans) do something on immigration reform if all those people come in under amnesty and get citizenship and then vote Democratic?”

That sort of calculus hints at what’s been keeping Washington politics mired in gridlock for the past several years. The nation’s capital today is a far cry from what it was in decades past, Colbert King said, and the key difference can be summed up in one word: polarization.

“Even during issues of civil rights, issues of war and peace, Washington still managed to engage in political battles without bringing the house down,” he said. “Not today. Now the aim is not only to win but also to vanquish the competition—to grind your opponent into the ground. The biggest question today in Washington is not whether the Dodd-Frank Act is working or should be changed, it’s not Ukraine or peace in the Middle East or raising the minimum wage or the Keystone pipeline. The question is whether Republicans can take control of the Senate and retain control of the House. [This issue] informs almost everything done in Washington these days, including the political behavior we see. Washington political strategists want to know only one thing: Will what we do mobilize or discourage our political base?”

Colbert King predicted that no overarching issues are likely to determine the outcome of the 2014 elections, but he did offer suggestions for the political parties. Democrats, he said, should not count too heavily on income inequality as a political rallying cry because it is hard to translate into a concrete message for voters. Democrats would be better off showing voters what they have done in the past to benefit them. And Republicans, he said, must find a way to be seen not as the party of obstructionism, but rather as one that has a positive message for the country.