TIME 2014 Election

Democrats Call for Focus on Narrative, White Voters After 2014 Losses

President Obama speaks as Democratic National Committee Chair and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Vice Chair for Voter Registration and Participation Donna Brazile share a moment during the General Session of the 2015 DNC Winter Meeting, Feb. 20, 2015 in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong—Getty Images President Obama speaks as Democratic National Committee Chair and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Vice Chair for Voter Registration and Participation Donna Brazile share a moment during the General Session of the 2015 DNC Winter Meeting, Feb. 20, 2015 in Washington, DC.

The party chair calls a new report "tough love"

The Democratic Party’s autopsy of its devastating defeat in 2014 calls for a renewed focus on the party’s message and winning back white Southern voters.

In preliminary findings unveiled Saturday at a meeting of the Democratic National Committee, a task force studied the party’s defeats in 2010 and 2014—despite its victories in the 2008 and 2012 presidential years. It called for the creation of a “National Narrative Project” to help the party develop a message that can survive in midterm election years.

“This morning we’re going to hear some tough love, and frankly we need to hear it,” said Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who chairs the DNC.

“It is strongly believed that the Democratic Party is loosely understood as a long list of policy statements and not as people with a common set of core values (fairness, equality, opportunity),” the report found. “This lack of cohesive narrative impedes the party’s ability to develop and maintain a lifelong dialogue and partnership with voters.”

The report, developed by party leaders and operatives, encourages Democrats to develop a three-cycle plan to increase representation in state legislatures for the purposes of the 2020 redistricting cycle. Republican gains in states in 2010 led to gerrymandering in their favor in the last decennial redrawing of congressional district lines, and further gains in 2014 made the Democrats’ challenge to reverse the trend all the greater.

“The Task Force recommends that the DNC—along with the Democratic family of organizations, state parties and allied organizations—create and resource a three-cycle plan that targets and wins back legislative chambers in order to prepare for redistricting efforts,” the document states.

The report also calls on the party to continue pushing for right-to-vote legislation, as well as step up efforts nationwide to recruit candidates at local and state levels to build the next generation of party leaders. Additionally, it calls on the party to continue to study why voters drop-off from presidential years to midterm elections, resulting in a more favorable playing field for the GOP, as well as ways to prevent the hemorrhaging of white voters .

“In order to win elections, the Democratic Party must reclaim voters that we’ve lost including white Southern voters,” the report states. The topic was a subject of discussion Thursday during a meeting of state party chairs, led by South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison. On Saturday, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, who chaired the task force, faulted the party for having “a single-minded electoral strategy” focused on White house and said, “the Democratic Party has lost its way.”

Republicans reacted skeptically.

“The first step toward fixing a problem is admitting that you have one, but it’s clear the DNC isn’t willing to come to terms with why their party lost in historic fashion last November,” Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Short said in a statement. “The reality is their divisive message doesn’t resonate and their liberal policies don’t work. And after years of neglect from President Obama, his chosen heir Hillary Clinton will be inheriting a cash-strapped national party teetering on the edge of complete irrelevancy.”

The task force included DNC vice chairwoman Donna Brazile, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, former Obama digital director Teddy Goff, lawyer Marc Elias, Beshear, and operative Maria Cardona.

The full report is due to be release in May.

TIME Campaign Finance

Big Business Gave Heavily to Thwart Ballot Measures in 2014

Voting booths in polling place
Getty Images

Anthem Inc. quickly mounted its defenses when consumer advocates pushed for a 2014 ballot initiative in California that would have made it more difficult for the nation’s third largest health insurer to raise rates.

The company, based in Indianapolis, Ind., shelled out $12.8 million to back television ads and a website that warned voters the measure would “give one politician too much power,” “create more bureaucracy” and “interfere with your treatment options.”

Anthem’s money, combined with millions from other interested parties, swamped efforts by Consumer Watchdog, the advocacy group that spent four months gathering the signatures to put Proposition 45 on the ballot. Opponents of the bill together gave more than $31.5 million — dwarfing supporters’ $2.6 million.

In November, Anthem and the other big business interests won at the polls, with nearly 59 percent of the vote.

Anthem, formerly known as WellPoint, was the second-biggest donor to groups fighting over ballot measures in the nation last year, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis. The donors gave the money to political committees that advocated for or against the propositions. The health insurer did not respond to requests for comment.

Anthem’s victory on Proposition 45 was part of a pattern that played out across the country: Business interests poured money into ballot question fights, largely to protect their own revenue, with overwhelmingly positive results.

More than three-quarters of the $272 million given by the top 50 donors to ballot measure groups nationwide came from corporations or business trade groups, according to the analysis. They gave most of their money to defeat proposals and were almost always successful, winning 96 percent of the time.

Related: Meet the Top 50 Donors Who Influenced Ballot Measures

“There’s no question that when business or corporations or entities that are affected by ballot initiatives give to the ballot initiative process, they’re not doing so out of altruism,” said Joe Tuman, a professor of political and legal communications at San Francisco State University. “They’re doing so out of rational self-interest.”

‘Spending matters’

The Center for Public Integrity collected campaign finance records filed by statewide ballot measure groups that ran ads on local broadcast, national broadcast and national cable television networks in 2014. The Center then analyzed the donations behind the groups to create the list of the top 50 contributors to ballot measure fights around the country. [More details on the methodology].

Together, those 50 mega-donors gave $272 million, nearly two-thirds of the $429 million contributed to those ballot measure campaigns in 2014.

That means that a few powerful entities dominated debates nationwide over ballot initiatives, which were originally intended to give citizens a stronger voice in government.

Most of the top donors gave to more than one ballot fight — and almost half of them helped fund battles in multiple states. A few were also generous in other 2014 elections, as well. Five of the top 50 ballot measure contributors were also among the top 50 donors to races for state-level candidates.

Some of the money paid for mailers and robo-calls, but much of it went to TV ad blitzes. In 2014, more than $190 million was spent on ballot measure ads alone.

Multinational oil companies BP, ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil Corp. successfully beat back a measure in Alaska that would have repealed tax breaks for the oil companies. After giving more than $3.5 million each to the “no” side, they won with nearly 53 percent of the vote.

The American Beverage Association, a trade group based in Washington, D.C., that represents beverage producers, gave more than $8.2 million to fight a Massachusetts measure that would have expanded the deposit that customers must pay when buying bottled drinks. It, too, got what it wanted when 71 percent of voters rejected the new deposit proposal.

But 2014 also proved that money only goes so far, said John Matsusaka, a professor and executive director of the Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California.

“Spending matters. If you spend money, you are going to get some votes,” he said. But “if it’s an unpopular measure you can spend as much as you like and it’s not going to pass. It’s not a system where you can just walk in and buy laws.”

Mile High USA Inc., a subsidiary of the Rhode Island-based Twin River Casino company that owns a racetrack and off-track betting parlor in Colorado, gave more than any other ballot measure donor in the U.S. in an unsuccessful effort to expand gaming at its Arapahoe Park racetrack near Aurora, Colorado.

Mile High gave $19.8 million to a “yes” campaign, which worked out to $9.84 per ballot cast in Colorado. Mile High’s corporate clout was countered not by citizens, but by a group of competing casinos in the state that together gave nearly $16.3 million to defeat the measure. Mile High promised that much of the newfound gambling revenue would go to a state education fund: “By permitting limited gaming at Arapahoe Park, 68 will provide millions to our schools each year,” said one backer in an ad. But voters were not swayed: 70 percent of them voted against the amendment.

In another expensive, uphill fight, Wal-Mart gave $9.3 million to an effort to pass a measure in North Dakota that would have let the company open pharmacies in the state, a haven for small, pharmacist-owned drug stores. Wal-Mart also lost, though its opponents raised a fraction of what the big-box retailer gave.

Giving big on defense

Within the top 50 donors, business interests fighting to defeat ballot measures were more successful in 2014 than those whose money was directed at trying to pass initiatives. Companies such as MGM Resorts International and Monsanto gave heavily to fight proposals that would have hurt their profits.

MGM, which is building an $800 million casino in Springfield, Massachusetts, helped pay for TV ads that warned voters the state would lose thousands of jobs if it nixed its gambling law in a November ballot question. “If Question 3 passes, we’ll lose it all — as simple as that,” said a man dressed as a construction worker in one ad. “We’re asking people to vote no on 3 so we can keep the jobs.”

For MGM, the investment of nearly $5.4 million to fight Question 3 paid off — voters rejected the initiative.

That fits with what political experts know about ballot measures: They’re easier to defeat than to pass.

“It’s easier to defend the status quo, often,” said Daniel Smith, a University of Florida professor who has studied ballot measures for two decades. “The onus is on the proponents to articulate why a measure needs to be passed by the people. People know what the status quo is, and you can raise doubts about whether you’re going to be better off under this proposed change.”

Some companies made successful “no” arguments across more than one state. Agricultural giant Monsanto gave $10.7 million to fight ballot questions in Colorado and Oregon that would have required genetically modified foods to be specially labeled. The company is the largest producer of genetically modified seeds in the world.

“We fully support the idea of providing information to consumers to help them make choices about foods as long as the information [on the labels] being provided to consumers is accurate, science based and does not mislead,” said Monsanto spokeswoman Charla Lord in an email. “What we are not supportive of is a state-by-state patchwork of labeling laws.”

Supporters of labeling, many of them natural food companies, raised nearly $1 million in Colorado and nearly $6.5 million in Oregon, but it wasn’t enough. Monsanto and its food-industry allies raised more than $16 million in Colorado and $20 million in Oregon, winning the ballot contests with 65 percent and just over 50 percent of the vote, respectively.

Giving money to ballot measure fights has become the norm for companies seeking to defend their profits, said Justine Sarver, executive director of the progressive Ballot Initiative Strategy Center.

“Ballot measures were originally created as a check on corporate influence in state legislatures,” Sarver said. “Today, corporations use the process to pad their bottom line.”

And business groups are continuing to fight for their profits at the polls. For example, plastics companies in California are already gearing up for a referendum battle over the state’s ban on single-use plastic bags.

The companies have already given millions to back a referendum repealing the ban, delaying its implementation and allowing the companies to continue raking in profits until the vote.

Billionaires and ballot questions

In addition to corporate giants, several wealthy individuals, including former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, used their vast stores of cash in an effort to influence state and local laws. Their new prominence in the ballot measure scene has surprised experts.

“That’s become a big issue now,” Matsusaka said. “It seems like there’s a lot of them these days.”

Bloomberg and Texas billionaire John Arnold each gave more than $2 million to groups supporting electoral reform in Oregon. The proposal would have reshaped the state’s elections into contests between the top two primary vote-getters rather than representatives from mainstream political parties. (Arnold and his wife are co-founders of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, a donor to the Center for Public Integrity.)

But Oregon voters were skeptical of the political designs of those two outsiders, because Bloomberg has also promoted gun control and Arnold has backed pension reforms. Sixty-eight percent of Oregon voters rejected the idea, even though the pro-reform side gave more than status-quo supporters by a nearly 5-to-1 ratio.

Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, a generous GOP donor, gave $5.5 million to defeat Amendment 2, a measure that would have allowed medical marijuana in Florida. Fueled by Adelson’s money, marijuana opponents spent an estimated $5.1 million on TV ads, compared to supporters’ $2.1 million. The pot measure lost.

But two individual givers managed to change laws through ballot measures. California tech magnate Henry Nicholas gave nearly $4.3 million to pass a law in Illinois giving more rights to crime victims. Nicholas, a vocal advocate of crime victims’ rights ever since his sister, Marsy, was murdered in 1983, started his crusade for “Marsy’s law” in California and has since taken it to other states. The law to provide restitution and notification about court proceedings to crime victims passed in Illinois with 78 percent of the vote and essentially no opposition.

Rex Sinquefield, a former financial executive and now prolific political donor in Missouri, gave $2.9 million to pass the Show-Me state’s Amendment 10, which gives the Republican-led legislature more control over the budget. Observers viewed this as a shot at Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.

“It’s not shocking that he would support a measure that adds to the institutional strength of a Republican-dominated legislature at the expense of a Democratic governor who he’s spent tens of thousands of dollars to defeat,” said Jeff Smith, a Missouri politics expert at New York City’s New School.

Healthy-sized giving

Among the top contributing business sectors, one outranked them all: Health care groups gave nearly $88 million in 2014, almost entirely in California. Casino companies were a close second, giving nearly $60 million across the nation.

The Golden State is known as the Wild West of ballot initiatives, with a long history of opponents and supporters spending eye-popping sums with far-reaching consequences. In 2014, two initiatives attracted considerable cash. Propositions 45, on insurance rate approval, and 46, which would have raised the state’s cap on medical malpractice damages and forced doctors to be drug tested, faced more than $90 million worth of opposition from insurers, hospitals and doctors.

Anthem’s crusade against Proposition 45 was aided by other health industry organizations also willing to give millions. Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, another of California’s largest health insurance plans, gave $12.4 million to defeat both 45 and Proposition 46.

Medical malpractice insurers Norcal Mutual Insurance Company, The Doctors Company and the Cooperative of American Physicians each gave more than $10 million to fight the health measures in California.

The Proposition 46 opponents framed the measure as the darling of trial lawyers, who indeed backed it and argued that it would have protected patients by reducing preventable medical errors.

“Before you vote, remember the risks about Prop. 46,” said one ad paid for by the insurers. “The trial lawyers wrote it to serve themselves, not the rest of us, mixing three unrelated provisions together to hide what Prop. 46 actually does — allow the trial lawyers to make millions, for more medical lawsuits and higher jury awards, while Californians pay when our healthcare costs skyrocket. That’s the true story.”

Hal Dasinger, a spokesman for The Doctors Company, noted the election results showed voters agreed with his company’s position: “Proposition 46 was bad for patients, bad for physicians, bad for local and state government budgets, and opposed by an unprecedented, broad list of groups.”

Giving tens of millions of dollars to ballot measure contests was worth the investment for the health care companies, according to Wendell Potter, a former insurance executive-turned-whistleblower who writes an opinion column about health care for the Center for Public Integrity.

“These insurers have enormous amounts of money,” he said. “The largest companies make billions of dollars in profits every year. They have the money to spend, and they’re quite willing to spend it to prevent any legislation or regulation that they have reason to believe might in some way cost them money or have a negative impact on profitability.”

But in 2016, the health care industry, along with its money, will take on a harder task in California: trying to pass a measure, rather than defeat one.

The California Hospital Association is sponsoring an initiative to make permanent a program to attract more federal dollars for low-income patients’ care. The hospital group plans to round up allies and spend big, if necessary, in yet another ballot measure showdown.

“It could be 20 million. It could be 40 million. It could be more than that,” said Jan Emerson-Shea, the group’s spokeswoman. “Our decision will be based on: ‘What do we have to do to win this measure?’ If there is opposition we have to fight off, then the price tag will be higher.”

TIME Campaign Finance

Charities Risked Tax-Exempt Status With Political Ads

Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., takes her seat for the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on "The Semiannual Monetary Policy Report to the Congress" with Federal Reserve Board Chairwoman Janet Yellen on July 15, 2014.
Bill Clark—CQ Roll Call/Getty Images Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., takes her seat for the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on "The Semiannual Monetary Policy Report to the Congress" with Federal Reserve Board Chairwoman Janet Yellen on July 15, 2014.

The Internal Revenue Service prohibits charities from getting mixed up in politics, and those that do risk losing their tax exemption. Despite the threat, a handful of groups in the 2014 midterm elections paid for ads that appeared to be campaign-related.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, for example, is known as a 501(c)(3) organization, meaning it pays no income taxes and donations to the group are tax deductible. It is organized the same way as a charity, a hospital or university.

Despite the risk, the NRDC lambasted North Carolina Republican state Sen. Bill Cook in a $700,000 ad campaign this spring. The nonprofit paid for eight different ads that aired more than 2,600 times from mid-April through mid-July, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of data from media tracking firm Kantar Media/CMAG.

One ad opens with video of trash being emptied into a landfill, then turns to a shot of Cook.

“State Sen. Bill Cook voted for a bill that would encourage New York, New Jersey and other states to dump their trash in North Carolina,” the voiceover says. “Tell Bill Cook attracting New York trash doesn’t pass the smell test.”

The NRDC, whose mission is to promote environmentally friendly policies, said the ads had nothing to do with the Cook’s re-election campaign. If the ads had been, the organization could face a fine or lose its tax-exempt status as a charity.

Politics ‘absolutely prohibited’

The IRS says 501(c)(3) groups are “absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.”

Despite the restrictions, the NRDC and a few other charities chose to navigate the complicated web of IRS rules to air ads that criticized or supported politicians running for election in November.

In addition to the ads targeting Cook, the NRDC partnered with the Southern Environmental Law Center and seven other charities under the name North Carolina Environmental Partnership to air ads criticizing four other state senators and four state representatives. All told, the partnership’s 20 ads — the majority of which were about the lawmakers’ support of fracking — ran more than 5,100 times from late March through mid-July and cost the groups an estimated $1.7 million to air, according to Kantar Media/CMAG.

The ads aired both before and after the state’s primary election, but disappeared months before the general. None of the candidates had primary opponents.

Rob Perks, the campaign manager for NRDC’s North Carolina efforts, offered that as proof that the ads weren’t intended to influence the election.

“We were incredibly careful,” Perks said. “During primary season, we only chose subjects of the ads to be people who ran unopposed in primaries or had no primaries of their own so that we wouldn’t run afoul of any electioneering activity.”

The goal of the ads, representatives for both the NRDC and the Southern Environmental Law Center said, was to help North Carolinians hold legislators accountable.

“We definitely were not intending to ask people to do anything at the polls, and some of the ads were about folks that were unopposed so wouldn’t even show up on a ballot,” said Mary Maclean Asbill, attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Of the lawmakers targeted — all Republicans — two state representatives lost their seats in November, one representative and one senator were unopposed, and the others, including Cook, won re-election despite the ads.

Cook, who faced former state Sen. Stan White, a Democrat Cook unseated in 2012, told the Center in an email that the voters’ actions confirmed his feelings that the ads were “completely false and ineffective.” He did not answer additional questions.

Nonprofit backed Hagan

Also in North Carolina, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, another charitable nonprofit aimed at protecting the environment, spent an estimated $500,000 airing an ad that expressed support for U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat who lost her seat in November.

“Who’s behind the attacks on Kay Hagan? Oil industry billionaires, that’s who,” the ad intones. “They want to undermine the air safety standards that protect us, and Sen. Kay Hagan is working to stop them.”

The ad aired roughly 1,450 times between March 24 and April 13, a few weeks before the primary when Hagan faced two other Democrats, both considered longshots.

Apparently adhering to a federal law that regulates “electioneering” communications, the group filed a report with the Federal Election Commission disclosing the spending because the last week of the ad’s run was less than a month before North Carolina’s primary election, Yet the group still maintains the ad wasn’t political.

“The ad never endorsed her as a candidate,” said the group’s executive director, Stephen Smith. “For all practical purposes, Kay Hagan had no candidate opposing her in that, so it was not at all meant to influence any election.”

Larry Noble, former FEC general counsel, said the ads aired by all the groups fall into a legal gray area but come dangerously close to crossing the line into election politics.

“They’re on a spectrum,” said Noble, who is now an attorney at the Campaign Legal Center, which advocates for tighter campaign finance regulation. “It’s a question in part of whether they’re focused on a person or whether they’re focused on an issue.”

Another ad that appeared to test the limits was produced by the nonprofitChange Agent Consortium. It aired in Michigan touting a September rally about Detroit’s bankruptcy amid Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s ultimately successful re-election bid.

“When Gov. Snyder suspended home rule 18 months ago, he and his co-conspirators promised better jobs, safer neighborhoods and improved city services. Instead crime is up, our school system is under attack and our water’s shut off,” Change Agent Consortium founder the Rev. David Alexander Bullock says in the ad. “Join me Monday, Sept. 29, at 6 p.m. at Hart Plaza and say, ‘No,’ to Gov. Snyder’s takeover of Detroit.”

While the event may have been educational, the language used borders on telling people explicitly to vote against the Republican governor, Noble said after watching the ad.

But Bullock said the ad was not about the November election.

“We did not mention [Democratic gubernatorial candidate] Mark Schauer. We did not tell people to vote for Mark Schauer,” he said. “We didn’t even tell people, ‘Don’t vote for Snyder.’”

Political or not?

In examining ads by charitable nonprofits, the IRS looks for references to a candidate — whether by name or not — and positions on “wedge” issues that are expected to turn the tide of a race, said Marcus Owens, an attorney at the Washington firm Caplin & Drysdale who previously oversaw the IRS division that regulates charities.

His firm represents the NRDC, so he declined to comment specifically on any of the ads in this story.

The IRS also considers a variety of contextual details, such as the timing of the message and whether it is consistent with the charity’s overarching mission, he said.

Unlike the FEC, which requires groups to report ads that name candidates within a certain window before an election, the IRS does not rely on specific time frames to determine whether an ad influences an election.

“When someone has been identified as a candidate and that person begins making campaign-style presentations, identifies a position on the issues, that person is a candidate under federal tax law, and so the campaign has begun,” Owens said.

Still, the likelihood that a charity would actually lose its tax-exempt status over a few political ads is pretty slim, said Brett Kappel, an attorney with the Washington firm Arent Fox. Someone could file a complaint with the IRS, but the investigators there are unlikely to jump to action.

“They’re so afraid of their shadow right now — you know, because of congressional oversight — they’ll put it on the pile and say, ‘Yep, we’ll get to that in 2018, 2019, somewhere around there,’” he said.

TIME democrats

The Last Southern Democratic Senator Gave Her Farewell Speech

Democratic Senator Landrieu reacts while delivering a concession speech after the results of the U.S. Senate race in Louisiana during a runoff in New Orleans
Jonathan Bachman—Reuters Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu reacts while delivering a concession speech after the results of the U.S. Senate race in Louisiana during a runoff in New Orleans on Dec. 6, 2014.

The loss of her Senate seat completes a political realignment that began decades ago

Departing Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu promised to spend her retirement from politics working to repair the environmentally degraded Gulf Coast Thursday in an emotional farewell speech delivered from the Senate floor.

“It is something worth fighting for,” she said. “We would not be a country without the Mississippi Delta.”

In a runoff election December 6, Landrieu lost decisively to Republican Bill Cassidy, making the last statewide elected Democrat in the Deep South. The loss of Landrieu’s seat completes a political realignment in the once solidly Democratic South that began decades ago.

Landrieu, who is from New Orleans, said she will focus her work out of office on issues impacting children and the environment, including coastal restoration, a hot button issue in Louisiana, where wetlands are disappearing at an alarming rate.

“The city is going to stay there and the region is going to stay there,” she said.

Landrieu thanked a litany of staffers and lawmakers but had less charitable parting words for one elected official.

“President Bush was not that forward-leaning,” she said of Bush’s response in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans. “I’ll just leave it at that. There will be a lot more in my book.

During her 18 years in the Senate, Landrieu was a dependable ally of the oil and gas industry and an unabashed pork-barrel dealmaker who touted her success at diverting federal funds to her state—she famously traded her key vote in favor of Obamacare in exchange for millions of dollars in extra federal support for Medicaid in Louisiana.

Landrieu told Politico it is “highly, highly unlikely” she will run for office again.

TIME 2014 Election

Landrieu’s Loss a Harsh Milestone for Southern Democrats

Democratic Senator Landrieu reacts while delivering a concession speech after the results of the U.S. Senate race in Louisiana during a runoff in New Orleans
Jonathan Bachman—Reuters Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu delivers a concession speech after the results of the U.S. Senate race in New Orleans on Dec. 6, 2014.

Democrats no longer hold a Senate seat, governor's mansion or legislative chamber from the Carolinas to Texas

Democrats are dead in the land of Dixie.

With the fall of three-term Sen. Mary Landrieu Saturday, Louisiana will not have a Democratic statewide elected official for the first time since 1876. And the Republican Party will control, as the Associated Press noted, every Senate seat, governor’s mansion and legislative chamber from the Carolinas to Texas.

Congress’ last white Democrat in the Deep South didn’t lose because of a superior opponent, but because of her association with a deeply unpopular President and a health-care law that destroyed the chances to extend other Democratic dynasties this cycle, including Georgia’s Jason Carter and Michelle Nunn.

Landrieu—the daughter of a former New Orleans mayor and the sister to the current one—lost more so than Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy won. Even Cassidy, who cruised to a win Saturday, acknowledges that to some extent. When asked to define the campaign’s turning point, he pointed to Landrieu’s support of the Affordable Care Act, which passed four years ago.

“I think it’s a referendum on Senator Landrieu’s support for a legacy, which the majority of people in Louisiana disapprove of,” he told TIME of his victory. “Sen. Landrieu has ceased to represent the views of the majority of the people of Louisiana but assumed that the advantages of incumbency would be adequate to ensure her reelection. But the people of Louisiana wanted a senator who represented them not Barack Obama.”

The fact that Landrieu couldn’t beat Cassidy—who Pearson Cross, an associate professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, called “not a natural,” “not charismatic,” “off-putting” and “awkward” in a six-minute telephone interview—leads Louisiana election experts to believe that a Democrat won’t win statewide office for years. For Cross, ten to fifteen.

“Early on I said that Cassidy couldn’t win unless he started to run a campaign that was more than people’s negative attitudes about Mary Landrieu,” he says. “But in fact, I was wrong. He has essentially won this campaign without bringing much to the table beyond people’s visceral dislike for Obama and Obamacare.”

In her final days, Landrieu acknowledged her disappointment that the national Democratic organization designated to defend her—the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee—abandoned her after the November 4 election turned to a runoff. Pro-Cassidy outside groups outspent her by a huge amount— a “roughly a 180-to-1 margin” on television, according to a November Associated Press article. Landrieu may be hard pressed not to partly blame the DSCC for her shellacking.

But she also could have run a better campaign. A few weeks ago she tried to display her clout as head of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources by pushing through a bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which failed by one vote. Even if it had gone through it wouldn’t have helped her much, says Joshua Stockley, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.

“I think that was a bad decision,” he said. “Here in Louisiana the average voter isn’t running around thinking ‘Man, I really wish we had a pipeline right now. Man, I really think oil and gas were cheaper.’ We’re already dealing with the lowest price per bill we’ve seen in decades. … Our day to day conversations aren’t dictated by the Keystone pipeline.”

Stockley says that she could have better emphasized issues like raising the minimum wage, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, Violence Against Women Act and her efforts to keep some major military bases afloat and to reduce college debt. It’s clear, however, that despite Landrieu’s campaigning on these and other issues, one broad statistic—“Mary Landrieu voted with Obama 97% of the time”—was the major theme in the race.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to Cross—who called Obamacare Cassidy’s “Exhibit A” binding Landrieu to the President—or anyone else for that matter, that Cassidy’s answer to the old question “What is the first bill you’d like to introduce?” focuses on repealing and replacing the health care law. Of course, doing that proves to be an incredible hurdle.

“Will that be the first bill that we’re going to be able to get out?” asked Cassidy. “I don’t know that—probably not. But if you want to talk to the American people … they would love to see that bill, wouldn’t they?”

TIME LGBT

Meet the Republican Who Lost His Election Fighting for LGBT Rights

Michigan House of Representatives Photographer Mike Quillinan Michigan Rep. Frank Foster (R) speaks on the floor in the Michigan House of Representatives in Lansing.

A young star in Michigan is spending his final days as a lawmaker working to expand the state's civil rights protections

In Michigan, a 28-year-old Republican state lawmaker is using his lame-duck session to fight for a bill that cost him his reelection in a primary this summer. Rep. Frank Foster is trying to extend the state’s civil rights act—which protects people from discrimination on the basis of age, race, religion, sex and weight—to also include sexual orientation. Even though he puts his bill at a 10% chance of passing, he says he has no regrets. “This is important, and if it’s not law in 2014, we’re still having the conversation,” Foster tells TIME. “Until it’s equal, it’s not equal.”

On Dec. 3, the commerce committee, of which Foster is the chair, was the site of a heated debate about tolerance and persecution. The public was invited to give testimony on Foster’s bill and another bill to amend the civil rights act to include both sexual orientation and gender identity. Supporters of the bills made arguments that passing them wasn’t just about protecting another class of citizens but about Michigan’s reputation and making the state feel welcoming to the broadest possible array of workers and companies.

One of those testifying in support was Allan Gilmour, a former second-in-command at Ford who made headlines when he came out as gay after his first retirement from the company in 1995. Updating the law, he said, “is necessary if Michigan is to attract and retain talent. And on an individual basis, no one should live in fear that they will lose their job or injure their careers should they live openly.”

Those opposing the bills, largely representatives from Christian groups, argued that the measures threaten to jeopardize religious freedoms, like those of Christian small-business owners who would prefer not to bake a cake or take photographs for a same-sex wedding—and might lose their business license for such a refusal under an amended civil rights law. “Why should that baker or photographer be forced against their religious beliefs and conscience to participate in that? And if they refuse to because of their religious conscience, to be put out of business?” said David Kallman, speaking on behalf of Michigan Family Forum, a conservative Christian organization. Multiple speakers also argued that there was no hard data showing that LGBT discrimination was a problem that needing solving. (There are reports on the issue and more research is being done on the topic.)

After giving his own testimony, Foster oversaw the meeting stoically, with one exception. Stacy Swimp, President of the National Christian Leadership Council, gave a speech about how he was “rather offended” that anyone would equate lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans to black Americans when it came to fights for civil rights. “They have never had to drink out of a LGBT water fountain,” he said, recounting that black Americans had been lynched and denied many basic rights in the past. He called any comparison “intellectually empty, dishonest” and accused the LGBT community of exploiting the struggles of black Americans.

Once he finished, Foster pulled his own microphone toward him. “Sir, I will agree with you on the fact that African Americans in this country’s short history have been discriminated against,” he said. “But if you don’t think the LGBT community has been discriminated against, been drug behind cars, been hung up by their necks til they’re dead, been denied housing, been denied commerce opportunities, then you’re just not looking very far.”

It was an impassioned speech from a native Michigander who never met a homosexual person until going to college at Grand Valley State University. Foster grew up in the tiny town of Pellston (pop. 831) in the midst of his current district, which spans the water where the state’s upper and lower peninsulas nearly meet. It’s an area known for fishing and hunting and tourism on islands like Mackinac, whose residents are also among his constituents. It’s also socially conservative.

By the time he finished his degree at Grand Valley State, Foster had been elected student body president, twice. He had organized rallies and marches against an amendment to ban affirmative action (which eventually passed by a nearly 20-point margin in 2006). He had accompanied administrators to Washington, D.C., to argue for better higher education funding. And he had worked to get gender identity added to non-discrimination policies in the student and faculty handbooks. “That was really the first time I socialized with people of different ethnic backgrounds and different races,” he says. “College was the way it was supposed to be for me.” He won his first race for a seat in the state House of Representatives in 2010, with 63% of the vote, and became one of only two freshmen to be appointed committee chairs.

After Foster was reelected in 2012, a Democratic colleague approached him about helping to support a non-discrimination bill. Like many people—one poll put the number at 87%—Foster assumed it was already illegal to fire someone for their sexual orientation, though there is no federal protection and only 21 states have passed such a law (18 of those, and D.C.’s, also include gender identity). Eventually, Foster and his colleague decided it would be more powerful if the Republican didn’t just co-sponsor the bill but introduced it. “I had no idea we did not have those folks included in Michigan’s civil rights act. When I found that out, it became a passion of mine,” he says, adding that he thought “as a young Republican, I could communicate to my colleagues and the party where we needed to go.”

Before Foster got around to actually introducing a bill, word got out that he planned to and he did interviews that confirmed people’s suspicions. In late 2013, Foster also called for the resignation of his Republican colleague Dave Agema, who caused an uproar after posting an article on Facebook that decried the “filthy” homosexual lifestyle. Agema was among those who encouraged a teacher at a Christian academy—who was considering running for Foster’s seat when he hit his term limit in 2016—to run against Foster in 2014 instead. Foster says his opponent, Lee Chatfield, gave him a deadline to publicly come out against legislation that would amend the civil rights act. “I wasn’t able to make that deadline, didn’t want to make that deadline,” says Foster. “So he filed in January and made this the center point of the campaign.” Foster lost by less than 1,000 votes in the primary against Chatfield, who had support from the Tea Party.

That loss not only cost Foster his job, but hurt his chances of getting the bill passed. The prospects had been looking good. He and other supporters of the bill had been rallying support among his fellow Republicans and gained the backing of the Michigan Competitive Workforce Coalition, a group with big-name members like Chrysler, Delta Airlines, Google and Kellogg that formed to support the legislation. “After my election, they slowly faded away,” Foster says of his GOP colleagues. “It was a pretty successful, religious-mounted campaign that beat me, and if that can happen in my community, that can happen anywhere.”

Foster says he’d like to see a bill pass that includes both sexual orientation and gender identity but had limited his to the former thinking that it would have a better chance of passing. When Michigan’s civil rights act was proposed in the 1970s—named Elliott-Larsen for the lawmakers who championed it—the inclusion of sexual orientation threatened to kill the bill, so it was removed. “Forty years later, here we are still trying to add sexual orientation, and it’s the transgender piece that was slowing the bill down,” Foster says. He also knows that by compromising, he may lose the support of Democrats. “Democrats are not going to vote for anything less than fully inclusive, and Republicans will not vote for fully inclusive,” he says. “So, in my mind, we’re sort of stuck.”

After winning his reelection, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, sat down with the Detroit Free Press and its editorial board reported that “he will encourage the Legislature to take up an expansion of the Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act to also include the LGBT community, prohibiting discrimination in hiring and housing decisions.” Foster is somewhat hanging his hopes on that report. “He can add some muscle to the argument and help me get this thing across the line,” Foster says. For now, both bills remain in the commerce committee. After potentially being voted out, a bill still has to win a floor vote in the House before repeating the process in the Senate.

Regardless of what happens, Foster is going home at the end of the session. He’ll work full time at Rehabitat Systems, a company which provides long-term care to people with traumatic brain and spinal-cord injuries, where he’s currently an executive officer. Right now, he’s frustrated with where the two-party system has gotten him. “I don’t want to necessarily be in the box anymore, where if I’m Republican it means I’m x, y and z,” he says. “The rest of my demographic, the 20-somethings, don’t think that way.”

But he says he’d like to have another go at being a Republican politician down the line, especially because their fiscal policies resonate so strongly with him. “There needs to be some more time,” Foster says. “My party has to change some of its social stances. And if that can happen, I think I’ll become more appealing to the party and vice versa.”

TIME 2014 Election

Now It’s Democrats’ Turn for a Post-Election Autopsy

Elaine Chao Mitch McConnell Kentucky
Mark Lyons—EPA US Sen. Mitch McConnell, Republican from Kentucky, waves to supporters with his wife Elaine Chao during his victory celebration at the Marriott East Hotel in Louisville, Ky. on Nov. 4, 2014.

Similar effort to Republicans' post-election autopsy in 2013

A month after its midterm election drubbing, the Democratic National Committee has selected a panel of party leaders, allies, and operatives to examine where it went wrong in 2014.

DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz announced the formation of the “Democratic Victory Task Force” Thursday to conduct a review of Democratic Party and allied organizations operations in the 2014 cycle, when Democrats lost control of the Senate and saw defeats in House, gubernatorial and state legislative races across the country.

The committee is made up of Democratic fundraiser Naomi Aberly, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, DNC Vice-Chair Donna Brazile, political operative Maria Cardona, party lawyer Marc Elias, former Obama digital guru Teddy Goff, marketing and event planning veteran Maneesh Goyal, Colorado Democratic Party Chair Rick Palacio, AFSCME President Lee Saunders and Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt.

Democrats maintain a structural advantage in presidential cycles, when a larger and more diverse electorate goes to the polls, but they have suffered in two consecutive midterm years from lower, less diverse turnout, as well as frustration with President Barack Obama. The committee will review areas where the party needs to improve both its midterm election operations, as well as areas where it must act to gear up for the 2016 presidential campaign.

“We are proud to announce the members of the Democratic Victory Task Force, and are eager to work with them to build on what we’ve done that works, identify and prioritize challenges and ultimately improve our party’s performance in future elections,” Wasserman Schultz said in a statement. “This diverse group of Democratic Party officials, strategists and advocates will each bring with them expertise from their fields to collaborate on a holistic review of the Party’s past performance and present actionable areas for improvement moving forward.”

The panel follows a similar effort by the Republican National Committee after its 2012 defeat. The “Growth and Opportunity Project” recommended operational and policy changes to the Republican Party when it released its report in early 2013.

Wasserman Schultz said the group will report its initial findings at the DNC’s winter meeting in February 2015 and make final recommendations by mid-2015.

TIME 2014 Election

Louisiana Senate Runoff Leads to Last-Minute Donations

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) speaks during a press conference to urge Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, on Capitol Hill on April 1, 2014 in Washington, DC.
Allison Shelley—Getty Images U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) speaks during a press conference to urge Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, on Capitol Hill on April 1, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Oil and gas industry among the big donors

The defeat of the Keystone XL pipeline bill in the Senate last month may have been viewed as a blow to Sen. Mary Landrieu‘s re-election bid, but her battle to get the bill passed was warmly received by members of the oil and gas industry, including Keystone’s parent company.

And not only have corporate PACs, top executives and lobbyists in the industry stepped up with large checks for the embattled Landrieu’s campaign in recent days, but so have many of her fellow Democrats, including a number of liberal New England senators who voted against the legislation.

It will be weeks before there’s a final tally of all the contributions to Landrieu and Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy, who face each other in a runoff this Saturday (Dec. 6). But each campaign has filed several lengthy reports listing hundreds of donors in recent days. From Oct. 16 to Nov. 16, according to filings made today, Cassidy raised $2.1 million to Landrieu’s $1.5 million. Landrieu raised money quickly in the wake of the Nov. 18 Keystone vote, bringing in at least $807,900 since the day before the vote, but Cassidy gained and has raised at least $983,000 in the same time frame.

Landrieu’s last-minute drive for support has relied mainly on wealthy individuals from Louisiana — along with a smattering of New York high-society donors — and strong backing from oil companies and liberal Democratic politicians. Cassidy, on the other hand, picked up large checks only from a handful of ideologically driven PACs and reliable out-of-state partisan individuals until the last few days, when he disclosed receiving a flood of money from GOP establishment figures, like soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), and some prominent brand name corporate PACs, like Aetna,American Airlines and Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

While full data on fundraising and spending by each campaign is only available through Nov. 16, FEC rules require that during the period within 20 days of an election, candidates report any donations of $1,000 or more within 48 hours of receiving them.

Landrieu’s Backers

The Nov. 18 Senate vote on a bill to approve the controversial Keystone project featured Landrieu front and center. Despite opposition elsewhere, the pipeline is popular in Louisiana, where oil and gas is a major industry and employer. The bill failed, and many pundits portrayed it as a defeat for Landrieu in her bid for re-election. But several big names in the oil and gas world seemed grateful.

According to filings made late last month, on the day before the vote, BP‘s corporate PAC gave Landrieu’s campaign $5,000. On Nov. 18, Martin Durbin, president of trade group America’s Natural Gas Alliance, personally gave her campaign $1,000, and the group’s PAC followed up with $5,000 more. Two days after the vote failed, the American Petroleum Institute‘s PAC contributed $5,000, as did ConocoPhilips‘ corporate PAC. The corporate PAC of Chevron, a company known for its conservative political leanings, and the PAC of natural gas giant Sempra also contributed following the vote, as did the Interstate Natural Gas Association. TransCanada, the parent company of the KeystoneXL project,reported giving Landrieu $2,500 on Nov. 24.

Landrieu has also received hundreds of thousands of dollars from other corporate PACs that represent major interests in Washington, particularly in natural resources and energy: American Electric Power, Exelon, Freeport-McMoran and Edison Electric.

Many of these companies tend to shy away from giving to Democratic candidates, and an endangered one in a race that conventional wisdom says may already be lost wouldn’t seem to be a great bet. The American Petroleum Institute’s PAC has given 85 percent of its money to Republicans this cycle; Chevron’s PAC has given 84 percent of its contributions to GOP candidates; and Freeport McMoran’s PAC has given 68 percent of its money to Republicans.

Adding to the unusual nature of Landrieu’s fundraising is the fact that at the same time oil and gas companies were shoveling money into her campaign, many of her Democratic Senate colleagues were voting down the very bill those companies supported — and then apparently leaving the floor to write large checks to support her.

In the days after the Keystone vote, Landrieu collected checks from the leadership PACs of Sens. Patrick Leahy (Vt.),Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Chris Murphy (Conn.), Maria Cantwell(Wash.), Barbara Mikulski (Md.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) and others — all Democrats who voted against the pipeline.

Most of Landrieu’s individual donations come from Louisiana addresses, with the notable exception of several dozen large checks from people in a very small geographic area of Manhattan — specifically the tony Upper East Side. Those society-name donors include William Lauder and heiresses Kate Whitney and Agnes Gund (who listed her occupation as “philanthropist”); their gifts may be linked to a fundraiser hosted by Hillary Clinton for Landrieu in New York shortly before Thanksgiving.

Cassidy’s Strong Finish

While Landrieu was raking in big checks from oil and gas companies as the Keystone bill went down in flames, Cassidy’s fundraising seemed stagnant. In a filing submitted on Nov. 19, covering the days just around the vote, Cassidy reported raising just $67,500 from large donors — compared to Landrieu’s filing on Nov. 20 listing $179,400. At that time, most of Cassidy’s donors were individuals and from out-of-state. In fact, his Nov. 19 filing is dominated by members of the DeVos clan — the conservative Michigan family led by Richard Devos, the founder of Amway. Richard Devos, his son Dick Devos and seven other members of the family each gave Cassidy checks for the maximum $2,600 for the runoff.

In contrast to Landrieu’s flood of support from her Senate colleagues, the only congressional leadership PAC giving to Cassidy then was the one sponsored by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska). The next filing, on Nov. 21, was similarly lackluster, showing just $99,400 in large donations.

But Cassidy’s efforts got a sudden boost that showed up in his Nov. 24 report listing $254,900 in large contributions. The impetus may have been a donation from McConnell’s leadership PAC. Whatever led to the sudden outpouring of mainstream support for Cassidy, it was a turnabout.

In that filing, Cassidy reported donations from major corporate PACs like Aetna, Altria, American Airlines, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Devon Energy and Caterpillar. He also picked up donations from the corporate PAC of Oxbow Carbon — the company led by the “other” Koch brother, Bill Koch, who also donated personally. Additionally, Cassidy logged checks from GOP Sens. Pat Toomey (Pa.) and Mark Kirk (Ill.)

The flood of donations increased with two even larger filings made on Dec. 1, covering the days around Thanksgiving. Donors listed in those documents include more big corporate PACs, such as those of America’s Health Insurance Plans andHumana, as well as much more leadership PAC cash from the likes of Sens. Richard Shelby (Ala.) and Chuck Grassley(Iowa).

Saturday’s vote will finally decide how large the Republicans’ majority will be as they take control of the Senate in January — 53 votes or 54.

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