The 2014 Election Is Yet Another Scrum in the Culture Wars

Louisiana’s Edwin Edwards—yes, he’s back, running for Congress!—speaks an inconvenient truth that sums up the Democratic problem.

10.27.14 5:00 PM ET

Culture and race are not disappearing as electoral drivers. But unlike 2008 and 2012, both presidential years, it is the Democrats who are struggling under this burden, with red and purple states emerging as the key battlegrounds. Just ask Edwin Edwards, Louisiana’s former four-term Democratic governor, convicted felon, and extortionist, who at the age of 87 is running for Congress. He’ll tell you.

Edwards crudely framed the state of play in the South as a matter of race, sexual orientation, and class; in other words, culture. Said Edwards, according to the Financial Times, “Some people view the Democratic Party as strictly for gays and blacks and non-productive people,” not exactly the thing that the party faithful want to be reading as Election Day nears.

The Democrats’ challenge of retaining the Senate is compounded by a midterm electorate that is generally more rural, white, married, and churchgoing than in presidential years. For example, in 2012 less than three-quarters of voters were white. In contrast, in the 2010 midterms, that figure was 77 percent, five points higher. As Woody Allen said, 80 percent of life is about showing up.

A recent Pew Poll graphically likewise portrays the stark national divide, and the granular differences are gaping. Republicans hold an 18-point lead among non-Latino whites, while Democrats are ahead by 62 percent among minorities. Pew also gives the GOP a whopping 68 points lead among white evangelicals, but shows Republicans lagging by more than 30 percent among the religiously non-affiliated.

Further complicating things for the Democrats is that the upcoming elections coincide with the sixth year of Barack Obama’s presidency, which is seldom an auspicious time for the “in” party, and definitely not one for Obama—whose favorability ratings are underwater, and who wears his disdain for the realities of governing and politics on his sleeve and on his face. To put things in perspective, under Bill Clinton the Democrats actually picked up House seats in the 1998 midterm elections, and didn’t lose any Senate seats—a first since the Civil War. However, Barack isn’t Bill, and America has since changed.

Still, in all fairness, Clinton was aided by a voter backlash against the Republicans impeachment crusade against the popular president. Heading into next week’s elections, impeachment isn’t on the table, and Obama evokes little sympathy.

As for Edwards, his comments on Southern politics have not drawn fire from leading Democrats—but one could safely have bet they would have pilloried Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, if he had said anything remotely close. Yet, you can’t really blame Obama & Co. for their silence. In a crowded field, Edwards has a shot of recapturing the House seat being vacated by Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D-La.) Republican challenger, Bill Cassidy.

Not surprisingly, this is not the first time Edwards has shared his vivid take on life. In 1983, he quipped that the only way he could lose an election was if he were “caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy.” True to his word, in 1984 Edwards won election to a third term.

But it’s just about demographics being on the Republicans’ side for the moment. Sanity matters, too. This election is also about the Republicans not committing unforced errors, errors that signal a rejection of reality, and hostility toward women. This cycle no Republican has come close to drawing gradations about rape, and the absence of those confessions of true belief has been a boon to the GOP.

Indeed, the distaff vote may yet again break Republican this cycle—as it did in 2010—if the polls are to be believed. Last week, The Wall Street Journal blared, “In Iowa, Arkansas and Colorado, Democrats’ Advantage Among Women Voters Has Diminished.” Democrats should be concerned.

According to a Washington Post/ABC Poll taken earlier this month, the Democrats held a meager 1-point lead on the generic ballot among women. A more recent Associated Press-GfK poll reflected similar numbers. In the latest AP Poll: “the two parties are about even among women, 44 percent prefer the Republicans, 42 percent the Democrats,” which marks a noticeable drop for the Democrats.  Back in September, 47 percent of female likely voters had  favored a Democratic-controlled Congress, while only two-in-five wanted the Republicans to rule the congressional roost, according to AP-GfK.  

To be sure, Republican rule of the Senate is not a foregone conclusion. Real Clear Politics gives the GOP only 46 seats out of 51 needed, and labels 9 states as toss-ups. Nate Silver fixes the odds of a GOP pick-up at just 60 percent and depicts a static portrait  of the Republicans’ chances, with the numbers barely budging since Labor Day. In Georgia, Democrat Michelle Nunn may paint a red seat blue, while in Kansas, Pat Roberts, a three-term Republican incumbent, may be going down to defeat at the hands of Independent Greg Orman.

Still, based upon the wide-angle snapshot of what and where control of the Senate hinges, it’s the Republicans who hold an advantage. Where it counts this time—in purple and red America—who the Democrats are and what the party stands for is more burden than benefit, just as who the Republicans are and what they’re about is a headache for the GOP in presidential years.

Once again, this election is about the Great American divide; only more so. Louisiana’s Edwards may be loutish, but he’s not crazy. The Culture Wars are not going away anytime soon.