TPM Cafe: Opinion

The 2014 midterm elections were about as thorough a victory for Republicans as might have reasonably been anticipated. Much of it, however, was baked into the cake by an insanely fortunate Senate landscape and turnout patterns that are increasingly dividing elections into midterms dominated by Republicans and presidential elections dominated by Democrats. But while Republican Senate and gubernatorial midterm victories in red states aren’t that great and accomplishment, the GOP also won Senate seats in two states carried by Obama in 2012 and another the president carried in 2008. And although some of the surprisingly strong Republican gubernatorial performances involve single-state quirks, they so exceeded expectations that some other explanation is called for.

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Jobs, equal pay, and college affordability are among what politicians discuss when talking about the economy and young women. Yet it’s always shocking to me that they typically leave out reproductive health as part of the discussion. Reproductive health care access is just as important the economic discussion too. Recently the National Institute of Reproductive Health released a survey that polled likely voters feelings on reproductive rights and elected officials. The results? Three-quarters of voters polled not only support abortion access but strongly link it to a woman’s financial stability and equality. Additionally, voters are more likely to vote for elected officials who support such policies. This is not a surprise to any who works in the reproductive rights and justice movement. Access to reproductive care is about the economy, stupid.

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The South usually gets a bad rap when it comes to reproductive rights. And this isn’t entirely undeserved: Mississippi only has one abortion clinic in the state, anti-choice politicians in my home state of Alabama seem to be in a perpetual race to see who can strike the biggest blow against abortion access, and let’s not even get started on Texas.

But since 2000, Tennessee has offered better protections for reproductive rights than the U.S. Constitution. That was the year that the state Supreme Court ruled that abortion was a fundamental right, and outlawed mandatory waiting periods and other barriers to access.

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On Nov. 4, North Dakota voters will consider whether to add a “personhood” amendment to their constitution. If this amendment, Measure 1, passes, North Dakota would become the first state to amend its constitution to define the “inalienable right to life” for humans as beginning at conception. (A similar measure is on the ballot in Colorado.)

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Readers of the entire 147-page opinion issued earlier this month by a federal district court striking down Texas’s strict voter identification law as unconstitutional and a violation of the Voting Rights Act might have been too exhausted to realize that the opinion’s very last sentence may be its most important. The court ended its opinion with a dry statement promising a future hearing on “plaintiffs’ request for relief under Section 3(c) of the Voting Rights Act.” That hearing, however, has the potential to require Texas to get federal approval for any future voting changes for up to the next decade, and to make it much more difficult for the state to pass more restrictive voting rules. It may be much more important than the ruling on the voter ID law itself.

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With a Republican Senate majority increasingly plausible, there’s more talk about what will actually happen in an all-GOP-run Capitol next year. What should the Republicans do? House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy suggested they will “prove they can govern.” But many more anticipate the same old standoffs between the Republicans and the president whose second term they tried and failed to prevent.

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The biggest prize in the 2014 midterms is control of the U.S. Senate. Georgia’s race between Democrat Michelle Nunn and Republican David Perdue is now at the very heart of that national fight. The candidates are essentially tied in the polls with less than a week to go.

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The recent attacks on military and law enforcement personnel in Canada and the U.S. raises the specter of “lone wolf” terrorist attacks, making Muslims suspect. Such thinking is superficial and reactionary. In the age of modern Islamophobia, it is a situation of owning a hammer and thinking everything is a nail. Looking at so-called “lone wolf” attacks in more detail and in a larger context reveals disconcerting issues in mental health care and media representations of Islam.

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Last week was awful. Gun violence struck still another American school and Canada's War Memorial. We learned that U.S.-led air strikes have killed 32 Syrian civilians so far. Perhaps worst of all, despite all of this, we probably spent more of our week talking about the ongoing Ebola faux-outbreak.

News feeds on the sensational — one of tragedy’s closest cousins. But not all tragedies are suited to a 24-hour news cycle or our flighty national attention span. Some spiral beyond the public's capacity to follow along. When it’s a missing airplane in the Indian Ocean, it’s largely irrelevant whether or not we keep watching. But when it’s the slow movement of the wheels of justice responding to Mike Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri, the dynamics are different.

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One of the great debates surrounding every midterm election is whether the many congressional and state contests have been “nationalized” or are instead subject to “local factors.” This question is to some extent a reflection of the perpetual argument between political analysts (usually political scientists) who emphasize “fundamentals” that follow similar patterns around the country, and those (usually journalists or self-lionizing political consultants) who emphasize the ebb and flow of particular campaigns and the quality of candidates and their many help-meets.

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