Opinion: No Wave, New Perspective

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As Senior Editor J.A. Bedell and I prepared to cover the Senate election Tuesday night, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew what the polls said. Being a realist, I expected the Republican party to maintain control of the Senate, and I was fairly confident the Democrats would take the House. As it turns out, the polls were correct.

And yet, all I was hearing from members of each party were predictions of huge waves of voters. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi went so far as to tell Stephen Colbert definitively, “We will win.” Surprisingly...or perhaps not so surprisingly, the establishment Democrats have learned nothing since 2016. Unlike this election season, the polls in 2016 had it completely wrong. President Donald Trump and the Republican Party took control of every branch of the federal government in one of the biggest upsets in modern American history. Not to dismiss the Russia debacle--which, if true, is nothing short of treason--but the Democrats lost because they ran an unpopular candidate.

Was she qualified? Hell yes, especially compared to her opponent. Was she good at motivating her base? No.

Trump was, and continues, to be very good at motivating his base.

In 2016, Clinton had the support of the voters who would have cast a blue ballot regardless of who was on the ticket. But she failed to stir up the enthusiasm that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders racked up during the primary campaign. While sexism was certainly a hurdle that she had to get over, Clinton was so confident in her victory that she ignored several key states on the campaign trail. Hillary Clinton was a good candidate, but she was a bad campaigner.

Despite the party leadership’s inability to learn from their mistakes and the grim Senate predictions, I had hope this midterm. As I watching the results roll in and reporting, I thought the Democrats might have a better chance at a Senate gain than previously thought.

I was watching as Beto O’Rourke put up one hell of a fight against incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz in Texas. I followed the Georgia gubernatorial race, where Stacey Abrams battled to overcome racism and voter suppression, and the same with Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum.

In the end--although Abrams is waiting to concede--all three candidates lost.  And yet, I still have hope.

I’m angry that Abrams and Gillum had to put up with racist attacks and robocalls against them. But I’m proud that they persevered and continued to campaign and to fight back against hatred and ignorance. I’m hopeful because both candidates, specifically Abrams, was able to fire up her base.

And when it comes to firing up their base, Beto O’Rourke stood out--way out--from the crowd. The El Paso-native showed the country that a progressive Democrat could find success, even in Texas. O’Rourke brought in young and old voters alike, and even managed to bring lifelong Republican, evangelical voters to the Democratic Party. He did so not by divisive rhetoric or abandoning any of his ideals for the sake of votes, but  by sharing hope.

It goes without saying that our country is divided right now. At times, especially during election season, it’s easy to feel that we will never again be united. But O’Rourke proves that idea wrong. Even in a conservative state like Texas, O’Rourke never waivered on issues such as immigration and race relations. He brought people to his side by arguing that if you’re pro-life and pro-family, separating families at the border should bother you. He made ideas that are often deemed “radical” seem reasonable. On a side note, that’s a lesson that Joe Donnelly could have benefitted from learning.

O’Rourke stood by his convictions and persevered in a far more competitive Senate race than anyone could have predicted. Ultimately, he lost. But he left us with hope. Hope that there can still be politicians that tout more than apocalyptic messages about what will happen if their opponent wins. Hope that there are still adults in American government. And for Democrats, there’s hope that the establishment is starting to listen to their base.

Whether you’re a Democrat that is outraged by the current administration, a Republican that fears gridlock with the newly Democratically-held House of Representatives or a third-party member who feels ignored, the gravitation towards candidates like Beto O’Rourke should give you hope. You might not agree with his politics. But he shows decency and maturity in the political arena, two traits that unfortunately make him stand out in today’s climate. If more candidates from both sides followed his lead, there’s no limit to the greatness that our country could achieve.

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