15 October 2014

In the days and few weeks immediately following the election last year, the media pronounced gloom and doom for the Democratic Party and its constituents, such as gay rights advocates. Journalists and media outlets of the left and the right, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, and Newsweek, among most others, announced that the Democrats were down and out, and that the evangelical Christians and the Republicans were the rising power. They divided the country into red states and blue states, and offered up glossy maps to show that most states were red and therefore Republican strongholds.

The New York Times, in a special news analysis, announced that “President Bush’s re-election is the clearest confirmation yet that America is a center-right country.” Newsweek was even bolder, reporting not only that the “GOP may be the majority party for the foreseeable future,” but that “red-state Democrats are a diminishing breed.” The media even succeeded in encouraging the venerable Democratic strategist James Carville to say, in an interview only forty-eight hours after the election, “We are an opposition party and not a particularly effective one. The Democratic Party died Tuesday.”

Now that two months have passed, the dust has settled, and the election has finally been concluded (Washington’s gubernatorial election was not decided until December 30), perhaps it would be worthwhile to look at a few of those red states. Did the media get it wrong, or at least exaggerate a bit? Were the Democrats and their values trounced in the election?

Arkansas was one of those red states on election day. Bush won the state by a healthy nine percent margin. Yet the state re-elected Democrat Blanche Lincoln to the Senate by a 12 percent margin, and of the four House seats up for grabs, Democratic incumbents won three, and by an average margin of 24 percent. And while the state voted against same-sex marriage, last month the Arkansas courts ruled that a state regulation banning gays from being foster parents was unconstitutional. Pulaski County Circuit Judge Timothy Fox ruled that a 1999 ban by a state agency had nothing to do with protecting the health and welfare of children, but was an attempt to regulate “public morality,” which is beyond the agency’s power. Judge Fox also found that the children of gay parents are as well-adjusted as any other children. Red, you say?

In Colorado, Bush won by a comfortable five percent margin. Yet the state preferred Ken Salazar, a Democrat, over his Republican Senate opponent, Pete Coors, by four percent. And of the seven House elections, Democrats won three, and one was not even the incumbent, John Salazar, Ken’s brother.

Montana is presumably the most red of the Western states. Bush handily won there by 20 percent. But a Democrat, Catholic rancher, Brian Schweitzer, won the election for governor, the first time a Democrat has in 20 years. And in the state legislature, the Democrats picked up seats, giving them control for the first time since 1977. And on the ballot initiative to legalize the medicinal use of marijuana, 62 percent voted in favor. Although the state voted to ban same-sex marriage, last month Montana’s Supreme Court ruled that the state’s public universities must provide health insurance benefits to gay employee’s partners. Writing the majority opinion for the court, Justice James C. Nelson noted that “sadly, many politicians and ‘we the people’ rarely pass up an opportunity to bash and condemn gays and lesbians, despite the fact that these citizens are our neighbors and serve their communities in the same manner as heterosexuals.” That doesn’t sound very red.

Although North Carolina, another so-called red state, voted for Bush by a 12 percent margin, the state also re-elected Democratic Governor Mike Easley by a 12 percent edge over his Republican opponent. And while they preferred Republican Richard Burr for the Senate by five percent instead of former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, of the state’s thirteen House seats, Democrats won six .

Bush won North Dakota by a 27 percent margin. Yet the state re-elected Byron Dorgan, a Democrat, to the Senate by an even greater margin, 36 percent. And the state’s only House seat was won by the Democratic incumbent by 20 percent. It would seem as if the Democrats did pretty well for a red state.

In Texas, surely the most red of the Southern states, given that it is Bush’s home turf, things were not as bad as one might have expected for the Democrats. While Bush won by 23 percent, the Democrats won a third of the House seats. Of those, two were by non-incumbents, no small feat in and of itself, given that the state’s legislature gerrymandered the Congressional districts such that Democrats were at a huge disadvantage. Even Bush’s own district in Waco went to a Democrat. And in Dallas County, the residents elected a female, Hispanic, openly-gay Democrat, Lupe Valdez, as sheriff.

West Virginia, where Bush won by 13 percent and the Republicans maintained control of the state legislature, the Secretary of State, Democrat Joe Manchin, won the governor’s election by 29 percent. Of the state’s three House seats, Democratic incumbents won two, by 36 and 30 percent margins. And while neither of the state’s Senators were up for re-election, it is worth noting that both are Democrats.

In retrospect, it does seem as if the media’s announcement of the fall of the Democratic Party was overstated. While John Kerry did not win the presidency on behalf of the Democrats, they didn’t really do as poorly as was reported. It’s true, they lost four Senate seats and a small handful of seats in the House of Representatives. But they maintained the balance of power in many states, and even gained control in others. Given that, why would the media, which as conservatives are fond of saying is left-leaning, if not liberal, report otherwise? Perhaps because the media just isn’t that liberal.