(Editor's Note: This is an opinion column, and the final Arkansas Business political column of the year by Robert Coon. You can revisit his previous work right here. Read Blake Rutherford's take on this year's midterms here.)
Tuesday night was one for the record books in Arkansas, from the federal races at the top of the ballot all the way down to local contests.
This is an Opinion
On Tuesday, the GOP took total control of the Arkansas congressional delegation by winning the remaining U.S. Senate seat (Tom Cotton over Mark Pryor) and all four House seats, which according to the Washington Post, was the first time they’d held every congressional seat in 141 years.
Moreover, this sea change at the congressional level is a dramatic shift from only 6 years ago when Democrats held five of those six positions. The GOP also won all seven of the statewide constitutional offices, increased their majority in the state Senate by two seats, and gained 13 seats in the state House – a show of strength that simply can’t be understated.
Here are my key takeaways from election night.
The National Wave Was Real, And It Was Big
President Obama stated just a few weeks ago his policies were "on the ballot. Every single one of them."
He was right, and voters let him know what they thought by giving Republicans control of the U.S. Senate. GOP Senate candidates won races not only in states like Arkansas, where the president is immensely unpopular, but also in states where Obama has had success, including Colorado and Iowa — which Obama won in 2008 and 2012 — and North Carolina, which he won in 2008.
Mid-term voter anger toward the president is nothing new. But the veracity of the blowback in this election cycle was at levels previously unseen, and had inconceivable coattails that led to Republicans taking control of more than 68 legislative chambers — the largest number since 1920.
The Wave Magnified Gains in Arkansas, But It Didn’t Cause Them
I think this particular point is critical. Some are likely to look at Tuesday’s results and argue that the national anti-Obama wave is what swept Arkansas Republicans to victory.
Not only is this argument overly simplistic, when it comes to the top ticket races, it's simply wrong. Public polling averages leading up to the elections had for weeks shown GOP candidates like Tom Cotton and Asa Hutchinson leading with seven and eight point leads, respectively.
Those leads were driven by messaging, campaign X’s and O’s, and differing views on critical issues facing the state and the country. Voters in these races (and many others on the ballot) had already broken toward the Republican candidates in the weeks leading up to Election Day.
On Tuesday, Cotton defeated incumbent Pryor by more than 16 percentage points, and Hutchinson defeated Mike Ross by nearly 14 points in the race for governor. Counter to the predictable spin that’s already starting to make the rounds, the GOP wave that beset the nation on Tuesday didn’t cause candidates at the top of the ticket to win, but it’s fair to say it did increase their margin of victory.
Public Polls Were Right
No need to spend a lot of time here. The majority of public polls leading up to Election Day showed GOP candidates with comfortable leads.
In response, Democrats rolled out their own polls (which contained wildly different results), and argued that their turnout effort was being undervalued and that huge increases in first time voters would lead to victory for their candidates. Clearly the internal polls were just props and completely lacked credibility.
Furthermore, any potential gains achieved by first time registrants couldn’t withstand a healthy erosion of support for Democratic candidates from Independent voters and even some Democratic ones.
The Focus Is Now On Governing
With control of both houses and the governorship, Republicans at the state level have a tremendous opportunity to pursue a thoughtful, positive and impactful agenda.
While many immediate comments and thoughts turned to the future of the private option Medicaid expansion, it's not the only issue requiring attention.
There are numerous other top-tier issues that will require prompt attention, including criminal justice reform, prison overcrowding and educational adequacy. Not to mention that months ago the House Republican Caucus began crafting its J.O.B.S. plan (Judicial Reform, Opportunity for All Arkansans, Business Friendly Environment, and Schools of Excellence), which will be its legislative platform for 2015.
With a Republican governor who has strong allies in the Legislature and healthy majorities in the House and Senate, the table is undoubtedly set for the GOP to implement its agenda and demonstrate to voters that it's ready to govern.
(Robert Coon is a partner at Impact Management Group, a public relations, public opinion and public affairs firm in Little Rock and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. You can follow him on Twitter at RobertWCoon.)