Now that we’ve settled into the rhythm of 2015, I thought it would be as fitting a time as any to post my thoughts on some of my favorite stories from the 2014 election cycle.
This was the first article that College Republicans published in our partnership with The Gate (with the exception of our endorsement of Bruce Rauner, which is still the most-viewed article in their history, I believe) but since I wrote the whole article, I figured it would be fair to repost it here with some extra comments and pictures as I see fit (that said, definitely read the original article here, since we want it to get as many views as possible).
It wasn’t too long ago that people considered Mitch McConnell vulnerable to a primary challenge (although given his 90% lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union, I’ve always skeptical). My doubts notwithstanding, Matt Bevin’s primary hopes against McConnell were officially dashed when rumors of his attendance at a cockfighting rally were confirmed, despite his initial denials. Bevin attempted to defend his presence at the rally (at which he delivered a speech) by claiming that “many” of the founding fathers were “very actively involved in this and always had been.”
Not surprisingly, this claim is completely unsubstantiated. Bevin was further damaged by the fact that the rally was in favor of legalizing cockfighting, which is illegal in all 50 states. Although he denies being aware of this, he could have probably taken a clue from the speaker immediately preceding him, who said that the rally existed for the “sole purpose of legalizing gamecock fighting at the state level.”
The moral of this story is that candidates should probably avoid rallies like this, and definitely refrain from lying about them after the fact.
For teaching every candidate down the road these seemingly obvious lessons, this makes the list.
Before claiming that a universally illegal activity is part of your state’s heritage, you might want to look it up first, or else you’ll be added to lists like this.
9) How the Mighty Fall
Most people haven’t heard of Michael Anthony Peroutka, but that doesn’t make this story any less interesting. As the Constitution Party candidate for president in 2004, Peroutka came in fifth place nationally, with almost 150,000 votes. He’s mentioned on this list because of the campaign that he ran this election cycle. After a brief flirtation with running for Maryland’s Attorney General, Peroutka decided to run for…County Council. He won the Republican primary by thirty-eight votes (another reason why every vote counts), but the story doesn’t end there. Peroutka is a member of the League of the South (which advocates secession) and, when asked to sing the national anthem at one of its conferences, began singing Dixie.
Ironically, despite receiving the support of many, though not all, conservatives (Maryland Governor-elect Larry Hogan fiercely denounced his candidacy, for example), Peroutka doesn’t seem to value them, claiming that conservatives “growl a while but then giv[e] in to the advances of their supposed enemy, [and] conservatives only solidify the never-ending gains of their big government, socialist, liberal brothers.”
For his continued advocacy of secession and his path from presidential candidate to city council member and his rejection of his own fiercest defenders, Peroutka gets a spot on this ridicu-list.
As a Maryland I’m all too familiar with the grief Peroutka’s candidacy gave candidates on every level. One of the campaigns I worked on this past cycle was Nancy Hoyt’s congressional race (which incorporates this County Council District), and she told me firsthand about how his candidacy was affecting far too many races more times than I can count.
8) If at first you don’t succeed…
Most candidates run with the expectation of winning, and what better way to win than by running in more than one state, right? Allan Levene decided to do just that, running for Congress in both Hawaii and Georgia. (Attempts were also made in Minnesota and two districts in Michigan.) Although he didn’t win a single primary (or even come close), Levene did make history as the first candidate in history to run for office in more than one state simultaneously.
It is truly fitting that Levene’s views are as unique as his political strategy. Levene supports the creation of “New Israel,” a new home for the state of Israel carved out of Texas. In addition, he claims he will “provide almost limitless jobs.” (He assures voters that he rarely resorts to hyperbole.)
Despite his crushing defeats in both states, the mere fact that Levene saw this as a potential way to actualize his own conception of the American Dream is reason enough for this to be a story. We live in a country where everything is possible, except maybe Allan Levene’s policy solutions. For sheer gumption, Allan Levene makes the list.
7) A New Texas Scion
Few people have suffered from Ted Cruz’s rise to power like David Dewhurst. Dewhurst was once one of the most powerful players in Texas politics, serving as lieutenant governor for over a decade. In 2012, when Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison announced her retirement, it was assured that Dewhurst would succeed her from the moment he announced his candidacy. However, there’s a reason that most people outside of Texas don’t know who he is.
At the start of the race, a margin of error candidate named Ted Cruz began picking up steam, and by the time the primary came around, Cruz was in second place with 34% of the vote. End of story, right? Not so fast.
In Texas, a candidate needs a majority of the primary vote to become the official party nominee, and Cruz went on to roundly defeat Dewhurst in the runoff. The rest is history.
How does that affect 2014? In 2012, Dewhurst had nothing to lose (or so he thought) by running for an open Senate seat, since in the event that he lost, he would retain his position as lieutenant governor , because that election would be two years later. However, Dewhurst’s ultimate defeat showed that he was vulnerable, and a state senator named Dan Patrick decided to primary him.
Patrick’s victory was fueled in large part by social media ( perhaps most notably with the support of the website “DewFeed,” which took on Dewhurst’s record through cat gifs) and the distaste that Texas conservatives had for Dewhurst. Patrick’s campaign focused heavily on border security, and some (mistakenly) viewed Patrick as being “too conservative for Texas.”
As everyone recalls, a certain Wendy Davis ran for governor, and Democrats calculated that Patrick’s presence on the ticket would provide an opening for them to win more localized races as well. However, the mere thought of that is laughable (as was Davis’s campaign in general).
For its fascinating use of social media, this race makes our list.
6) History Made
One name: Eric Cantor. This was the outcome no one could have seen coming. In hindsight there definitely were some warning signs, like how Cantor’s top pick for a local GOP chairmanship was defeated solely because of his support for Cantor.
Much ink has been spilled on this topic, and it makes the list because Cantor made history as the first and only majority leader to lose a primary since the position’s creation over a century ago. In fact, before Cantor’s loss, more majority leaders had died in office than have lost primaries.
5) Santa Goes Home
If Allan Levene made it seem like people with unorthodox candidacies couldn’t make it to Congress, Kerry Bentivolio (briefly) proved otherwise.
In 2012, Congressman Thaddeus McCotter (remember his presidential campaign? Probably not) realized that his ballot signatures were fraudulent (as they had been for several cycles) and abruptly resigned from Congress.
What was going to happen in that election? Republican Kerry Bentivolio had been on the ballot already, and he won the nomination and the subsequent general election.
So what makes him so interesting? Bentivolio was the first Santa Claus impersonator and reindeer farmer to make it to Capitol Hill. However, he never really fit in.
This cycle the establishment struck back: with endorsements from Mitt Romney, the Chamber of Commerce and others, Republican David Trott crushed Bentivolio by just under a 2 to 1 margin.
For shaking up the primary narrative and sending Santa back to Michigan, as well as making us wonder who got coal in their stocking, this primary makes the list.
4) Harry Reid’s Future
Ever since John Thune was elected to the Senate in 2004 by defeating Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, party leaders have been regarded as fair game. For evidence of this, look no further than the millions spent in Mitch McConnell’s reelection bid this past cycle. Few elections will mean as much for 2016 than the results from Nevada given Reid’s importance in DC.
Starting with the upset victories of Republicans Cresent Hardy in a heavily Democratic congressional district and Adam Laxalt in the attorney general race, it was obvious that Republicans had a terrific night in Nevada (as well as nationwide).
Add into the mix that Republican Governor Brian Sandoval won over 70% of the vote and it was an even better night than even the biggest optimist could have predicted. Now what makes this remarkable? It all has to do with 2016 and Harry Reid’s political future (and his recent declaration that he feels “homesickness” for the senate probably won’t play well back home…in Nevada).
Reid is already afraid of a potential matchup with Sandoval, so he invested heavily in the lieutenant gubernatorial campaign of Democrat Lucy Flores. The Reid camp’s reasoning is simple: if Sandoval were to run in 2016, he would be succeeded in office by his lieutenant governor , and since the governor and lieutenant governor are elected separately, the potential for Sandoval to be succeeded by a Democrat might halt his Senate campaign before it starts.
Despite Reid’s best efforts, Republican Mark Hutchinson won an easy victory, cementing the tremendous gains Republicans made statewide.
3) The earthquake
Very few elections shocked the political world like Larry Hogan’s win in Maryland’s gubernatorial race. Aside from the fact that Hogan is now the third Republican elected governor of Maryland since Spiro T. Agnew in 1966, his upset victory buried whatever chance Martin O’Malley had at the presidency. After all, if voters resoundingly rejected O’Malley’s legacy as governor in one of the bluest states in the union, how could he plan to win anywhere outside of California?
This race showed that a Republican can win using public financing, despite being outspent by millions in a state where most pollsters (including Nate Silver, who gave Democrat Anthony Brown a 94% chance of winning) view even coming close as an impossibility. For you sports fans, Hogan was given the same chance that “No. 14 seed Mercer had of beating No. 3 seed Duke in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament this past March.”
For proving that the right messenger delivering the right message can win against even the most insurmountable odds, this election makes the list.
2) Chicken little
Very rarely do chickens play an important role in an election’s outcome, although as Bevin has already showed, anything really is possible. However, that’s exactly what happened in Iowa’s Senate election. The race really heated up when Joni Ernst released her now famous castration ad revealing her as a force to be reckoned with.
After Ernst surged to a primary win, it became apparent that this was going to be a race worth watching. Democrat Bruce Braley was one of the worst campaigners of this cycle, committing gaffe after gaffe. Some of our favorites are how he insulted farmers and Senator Chuck Grassley at a closed door fundraiser for trial lawyers, how he lamented the temporary closure of the towel service in the House gym during the government shutdown, how he posted pictures of farms from England, not Iowa, and workers from Mexico (in a post about the minimum wage), and how he tells voters he’s a farmer, despite the small fact that he is not.
Now, back to the chickens. Braley threatened to sue his neighbor (a registered Democrat, who voted for Republican Ernst) over the fact that her chickens wandered onto his vacation home property. These are no normal chickens: His neighbor uses them to help children with mental health problems.
The chickens can’t get all the credit for swinging the race, but they confirmed the narrative that Braley was insensitive and out of touch with the vast majority of Iowans.
For showing the importance of respecting your neighbor’s chickens, this election makes the list.
1) Frank Underwood
What could possibly have been the most interesting story of this election cycle? Frank Underwood himself would have had to come to life to top this list.
Underwood still remains trapped in the TV screen, but if you told us this story in 2013, we would have more likely suspected you of illicitly possessing a copy of the script for House of Cards Season 2.
Most people heard about how Clay Aiken ran for Congress this cycle. I completely see how winning American Idol qualifies one for congressional service, but a runner-up?! Come on!
Aiken’s lack of credentials notwithstanding, on the night of the primary the election results were too close to call between Aiken and fellow Democrat Keith Crisco.
In North Carolina, candidates need over 40% of the vote to win a primary, and Aiken was hovering right over the threshold. Crisco refused to concede, but before the election results were in, Crisco died from a fall in his home.
Crisco was seventy-one, and no one had seen this coming. Was it foul play? It certainly wasn’t, however we’re not the only people to recognize that this is straight out of the Frank Underwood political playbook. After all, we have all seen him show a complete willingness to sacrifice life for power.
For making House of Cards even more relevant to politics than it was already, and proving that politics is never boring, this makes the top of my list.
With turnout in far too many of these races dropping to staggeringly low levels, it’s critical to our country’s future that students our age, and every other age group, get engaged. Hopefully one of these stories will be inspiring enough to help get your friends off the sofa and into the voting booth, because politics isn’t a spectator sport. As Pericles said, “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.”