Washington political insiders joke that every former high school class president ends up in Washington. I should know. I am one.
With so many high school political types here it is no surprise that Washington politics seems like one big high school drama played out on a national stage.
Political conventions are the proms.
Election Day is the graduation, and the election night coverage on cable news is the yearbook.
The school year is not yet over, so we can’t yet close the book on the political “Class of 2014.”
But with days to go and hundreds of millions of dollars spent, here are my top awards for the 2014 campaign and this year’s midterm elections.
Best campaign surrogate: (Shared award) Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren for the Democrats and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul for the Republicans.
The award for most sought after surrogate goes to Jeb Bush for Republicans and Bill and Hillary Clinton for the Democrats.
But for congressional candidates seeking a national partisan figure sure to draw crowds, raise money and spill newspaper ink by the barrel, then Elizabeth and Rand were your first calls this campaign season.
Both of these senators have their fingers firmly on the pulse of their parties’ bases. They both speak in a way that resonates deeply with the party faithful and gets them excited to be on the blue or red team.
Midterm elections can be sleepy. Warren and Paul have reliably rallied the troops by reminding them to write the checks, make the phone calls and canvass the neighborhoods.
Sen. Warren speaks to the heart of the Democrats’ belief in economic populism, social justice and a return to the progressive roots of the Democratic Party. She rails against the greed of the big banks and Wall Street raiders who make money by exploiting hard-working middle-class Americans. She is an FDR Democrat who wants the government to protect the middle class from these forces and give them a “fighting chance.” Her newly released book in actually titled “A Fighting Chance.”
Sen. Paul speaks to the GOP heart. His calls for a limited government and a return to strict Constitutionalist principles are red meat to the conservative base of the GOP at a time when many Republicans are mistrustful of President Obama’s foreign policy and wary of getting involved in another war in the Middle East. That is why Sen. Paul’s isolationist view of foreign policy is making inroads on the GOP’s right wing.
It is no wonder both senators are talked about as presidential candidates for their parties. And after this election, they will both have collected plenty of political chits from party members all over the country.
Worst campaign surrogate: (given in absentia) Sorry to say it, but the political analyst in me has to give the award to President Barack Obama.
Here’s how The Washington Post began an article about the President on October 10: “For the first time in this election season, President Obama on Thursday actively campaigned with a congressional candidate.” The Post wrote.
“What would normally be an ordinary campaign ritual stood out as an extraordinary event because sagging popularity and multiple foreign crises have rendered the president a no-show on the 2014 campaign trail. Even some Democrats who hold nearly identical policy positions … have opted not to appear beside him.”
The failure of Democrats to point out that congressional Republicans are less popular than the president is puzzling. They have allowed themselves to be put on the defensive even though the president can claim the economy is vastly improved under his watch, wars are ending and more people have health care.
Strangest advertising – In Georgia’s Senate race, the Republican, David Perdue, ran an ad that tied the Democrat, Michelle Nunn, to terrorists because she once worked with a charity and some of its aid went to Muslims. The fact-checking group, Politifact, gave the ad its worst possible rating for being an outright distortion.
Strangest claims – Domenic Recchia, a Democrat running for Congress in Staten Island, N.Y., claimed to have foreign policy experience because he once hosted a foreign exchange student.
Cory Gardner, the Senate candidate in Colorado, claimed in a debate that he does not support a “Personhood” bill that gives rights to fetuses. But Gardner voted for a bill in the state legislature to do just that.
Best executed campaign: Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito’s campaign for U.S. Senate in West Virginia.
Capito is poised to become the first female U.S. senator in West Virginia’s history with strong fundraising and avoiding extreme political positions. As a result, Capito may be on the verge of ending the domination of state politics by the Democratic Party machine built by retiring Democrat Sen. Jay Rockefeller and the late Sen. Robert Byrd.
Polls show Capito leading her opponent, Democratic Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, by double digits.
If Capito wins, look for her senior Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat, to seriously consider pulling “a Jim Jeffords” and switching parties to caucus with the Republicans.
Manchin is already one of the most conservative Democrats in the Senate and sometimes angers his own party by voting with the GOP. If a Republican Senate Majority Leader could promise Manchin a Senate committee chairmanship, that might be enough to bring him over.
Biggest surprise: As Thomas Frank might say, “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”
Both Kansas’ Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and senior Republican Senator Pat Roberts are in danger of humiliating defeat this November.
Since taking office, Gov. Brownback has been wildly unpopular because of his draconian cuts to the state budget, particularly education spending. His cuts are so radical and so unpopular that 100 current and former elected officials came together, calling themselves Republicans for Kansas Values, and trashed Brownback by publicly endorsing his Democratic opponent Paul Davis. Polls show the race a dead heat in a state that Mitt Romney won in 2012 by 20 percentage points.
Sen. Pat Roberts also is in trouble. He has been in Congress since 1981. He thought his troubles were over when he dispatched Tea Party candidate Milton Wolf in his GOP primary. But now there is an independent candidate named Greg Orman pulling votes from both Roberts and his Democratic opponent. The Democrat withdrew from the race knowing that his supporters would flock to Orman. That is why Kansas Republicans are desperate to keep the Democrat on the ballot despite his wishes. Polls show Orman slightly ahead in a head-to-head matchup against Roberts.
Smallest surprise: Unlike Kansas, we should have all seen this one coming. The Louisiana Senate race between Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy and incumbent Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu is likely to be so close that it will end in a runoff election that won’t take place until December. Another independent candidate, Rob Maness, is enough of a factor that neither Cassidy nor Landrieu may clear the threshold mandated by the state’s constitution.
In the event of a runoff in the Pelican State, we may not know if the Republicans got the 51 votes they needed to take over the Senate until December. We may not know that we don’t know until well after midnight on election night.
So, there you have it.
Be sure to keep these superlatives in mind when you watch Fox News for election night coverage on November 4.
Juan Williams currently serves as a co-host of FOX News Channel’s (FNC) The Five (weekdays 5-6PM/ET) and also appears as a political analyst on FOX News Sunday with Chris Wallace and Special Report with Bret Baier. Williams joined the network as a contributor in 1997.