High-Stakes Elections

In the final week before a midterm election in which national media coverage has focused very heavily on the battle for control of the U.S. Senate, millions of Americans will be deciding whether or not to vote. Many will decide not to on various grounds, including the idea that it really doesn’t matter who wins, because (a) there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the two parties (a hardy perennial attitude that long pre-existed the centrist heresies of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and the rise of a Tea Party convinced the GOP had sold out its conservative principles), or (b) the “stakes” aren’t high, either because of the location of the voter or the sense national politics won’t significantly change regardless of any feasible outcome.

This very last argument is taken on forcefully today by TNR’s Alec MacGillis, who reminds us that even if you believe a Republican Senate won’t materially change the dynamics in Washington, there are many state elections with more tangible–indeed, life and death–stakes. His example is Maine, where an unlikely Tea Partyish Republican governor, Paul LePage, is wreaking havoc with the social safety net, and is in reasonably good position to secure another term as governor because Eliot Cutler, the same indie candidate that enabled him to win with 38% of the vote in 2010, is again on the ballot (though he was just abandoned yesterday by Sen. Angus King, his most prominent supporter, who’s now backing Democrat Mike Michaud).

Alec’s right, of course; there are many fateful and highly competitive state races concluding next Tuesday, especially for governorships. Several (GA, FL, KS, WI) involve challenges to Republican governors who have rejected the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. In another, AR, a extraordinarily delicate compromise allowing a Medicaid expansion under a GOP legislature and Democratic governor could easily become undone by GOP gains. And even in states where health care policy isn’t an issue, many other extremely vital decisions are at stake. Just one example: if CO, Republican Bob Beauprez wants to reduce both state and local controls over oil and gas drilling because “Never in the history of man have we harvested natural resources better, more efficiently, safer.” As noted here yesterday, Colorado’s a state where the governorship and both chambers of the state legislature could flip D to R, particularly if turnout is low.

If you can’t find any reason to vote, you’re probably not looking very closely.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.