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Does election represent a GOP mandate?

Nobody should be surprised about the Republican Party taking the Senate back and increasing their numbers in the House. It was bound to happen, as it generally does, in an off-year election in the president’s second term. 

What nobody in the pundit class is talking about is that this was an historic “low voter turnout” election. The profile of the average voter who favored the GOP across the nation was an older, whiter and upper class voter demographic.  

While in Oregon turnout was close to 69 percent, nationally the turnout was only 37 percent. In 2012, more than 130 million voted, while on Tuesday only 83 million voted — the lowest turnout since 1942. This made a huge difference, especially for Democrats. Among those who don’t vote as much — young people, single women with children, minority voters and the homebound elderly — the exception is Oregon in the latter case because of “vote by mail.” 

Too many Democratic candidates ran away from President Obama and the progressive values of the Democratic Party, and tried unsuccessfully to rebrand themselves to get the votes of a more conservative voter base. This turned off women, younger voters, minority voters and more liberal white voters — the base of the Democratic coalition. And when the GOP made Ebola, ISIS and protecting the border the centerpieces of their campaign, the Ds had no counter-narrative. 

Now that Sen. Mitch McConnell is going to be the Senate Majority Leader, what can we expect of the gentleman from Kentucky? Despite his comments election night about wanting to work with President Obama, Sen. McConnell has a record from the beginning of the Obama presidency of being an “obstructionist” who many times declared his mission was to make Obama a “failed” president.    

Let’s assume McConnell and an energized GOP want to take the leadership mantle to do the people’s business rather than just be the party of “No.” What might be issues of common ground? 

Three issues have come to the fore: immigration reform, corporate tax reform and approving the Keystone pipeline project. Will President Obama negotiate on these issues? As they say, the “devil is in the details.” With the GOP, we know the goal: increase border security; no amnesty; cutting corporate income tax rates; and being friendly to the oil, coal and gas energy lobby.

If this is their idea of reform, it will be “dead on arrival” when and if such bills reach the president’s desk. Obama has an iron-clad veto-override-proof pen! Will he fold on these issues? Maybe, but Obama is not Bill Clinton, who folded on Wall Street deregulation, which led to the Great Recession of 2008.

The other Republican goal is to repeal Obamacare. This won’t happen. And if they take a more moderate route of “reforming” Obamacare, what will be their targets?  

If one listens carefully to the winners talk, they sound like zealots intending to “bargain” with Obama on their terms. If the subtext of GOP messaging is a series of “non-negotiable” demands, expect gridlock. The GOP honeymoon could be over before January when the new team takes power. In reality, McConnell and [John] Boehner have only nine months to develop an agenda and to work with the president. By next fall, we will be headlong into the presidential primary campaign of 2016. 

The political clock is ticking. 

Russ Dondero is a professor, blogger and citizen activist. He lives in Forest Grove.

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