Washington was bracing for a shake-up that didn’t happen as President Barack Obama outdistanced Republican challenger Mitt Romney by capturing 332 of the 538 electoral votes. Romney’s momentum had been on the rise since the first presidential debate, but it wasn’t enough to propel him into the White House. Several factors contributed to Obama’s victory:
- Swing states: Obama won all seven of the major battleground states.
- Key groups: Obama won the votes of large percentages (doubledigit spreads) of African Americans and women. (He lost among white men by a large margin, as expected.) Nineteen percent of the electorate was age 18 to 29; Obama won that group by 24 points.
- Latino voters: Latinos comprised 10% of the electorate. Obama won 69% of their votes while Romney won 29%. In Florida, Latinos accounted for nearly one out of five voters, and Obama won their votes by a margin of 21 points.
No meteoric shifts. Democrats had 23 Senate seats to defend against 10 for Republicans. When the dust settled, the Republicans had lost two seats. In North Dakota and Montana, two states Republicans expected to capture, Democrats won.
In the House, the Republican majority stayed intact. Democrats picked up seats to raise their count, but Republicans still hold an edge of at least 234 to 199 (two races have yet to be decided at press time).
How will this shape events in Washington? Early signs were not very positive. The markets cringed when Obama staked out a firm position before the start of negotiations between lawmakers on the "fiscal cliff"—the combination of expiring tax cuts from 2001 and 2003, other tax provisions, and sequesters and across-the-board cuts that is set to take effect in January 2013.
However, the initial meeting came off without the acrimony that was expected. Both sides emerged saying that "progress had been made," though neither side said exactly what that meant.
Still, pressure remains on lawmakers to find a way to avert what would be a more than $550 billion hit to the fragile economy. To put that amount in perspective, it equates to about 3.3% of the total U.S. economy.
A new farm bill could figure into the mix. House Ag Committee Chair Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) commented after the election that the $35 billion in savings in the version of the bill his lawmaker panel passed had "gotten attention" and could become a way to pay for some of the costs of a fiscal cliff package.
Familiar faces. For the House and Senate Ag Committees, the election will not bring significant change.
Three new members will be seated on the Senate Ag Committee, as Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) retired and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) was defeated in his state’s primary. But the rest of the panel stayed intact, including its Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who was also victorious.
A potential battle for the top Republican post on the panel is shaping up. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) has reached the term limit for how long he can serve as the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and is mulling a challenge of Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) for the top GOP spot on the Ag Committee. If Cochran were to gain that post, it could have an impact on whether the farm bill is thrust back into committee in 2013.
In the House Ag Committee, no major changes took place, with Lucas and ranking member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) both breezing to victory. Only three sitting members of the panel were defeated in their bid for another term in office. That should mean an easier time if the farm bill is sent back to the committee level.
But as the process of winning House approval of a new farm bill gets under way, Lucas has some 20 new members to work with that have not served in the House or been through a farm bill process before.
A sure bet. In short, the political landscape is not significantly changed. The political gridlock leading up to the elections has left a long laundry list of items still on Washington’s must-do list. Both parties now have to show that their postelection pledges of bipartisanship were not just a sound bite but a way of doing business.
One key outcome is likely: comprehensive immigration reform sometime in the next 18 months. Why? The Republicans realize they can’t win national and some statewide elections without garnering a larger share of the growing Hispanic vote.