UPDATED: GOP wins big across the nation; states show individuality on ballot initiatives
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Christian Examiner) -- Midterm elections showed an electorate that agreed across the country it's time for new leadership, but ballot measures highlighted state differences on a host of social issues.
In seven of the 11 most closely watched Senate races, Republicans picked up seats to give them a majority in that chamber. One Democrat held off her Republican challenger and another Democrat has a slight lead, but the races were more competitive than anyone expected. Another contest is leaning Republican but has not been called, and a fourth vote is headed to a runoff with the Democrat incumbent knowing almost 60 percent of the state opted for change.
The GOP also added to its majority in the House, likely gaining its largest number of members since World War II, and, it gained two governors' offices with three Democrat incumbents still not knowing if they will retain their offices in votes too close to call. Another governor's race without an incumbent also is down to the wire.
Richard Land, longtime influential figure in Washington circles and among evangelicals and now president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, NC, said Republicans need to demonstrate they are worthy of the new trust given them.
President Obama's utter failure and incompetence caused Americans to turn to the Republican Party and say, "lead," he said. "It's up to Republicans to put bills on the president's desk that create jobs ... that demonstrably improve the economy and create jobs."
He pointed out that younger people and African Americans "frankly have been hurt worse financially by this president than any other groups" and urged the new leadership to "craft legislation that gives them jobs and hope for a future."
"They need to give them a chance to get into the economy and let them see Republicans are the party of opportunity and Democrats are the party of dependence," Land urged.
Despite the overwhelming number of conservatives who won offices even in blue states, voters were not necessarily as conservative in their votes on social issues.
Both liberal leaning Colorado and conservative North Dakota defeated personhood measures, while Tennessee, a red state, approved a constitutional amendment to add protections for women and unborn children that match laws in neighboring states.
Tennessee also passed a constitutional amendment against a state income tax.
Arkansas, Illinois, Nebraska, South Dakota all chose Republican governors, but also approved increases in minimum wages. Alaska did, too, but the governor race there is still too close to call. Voters seemed to be saying new leadership is needed, but jobs are few and some protections are needed for those that exist while help is on the way.
Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia all passed pot laws that would allow small amounts for personal use, but a medical marijuana initiative in Florida did not receive the 60 percent approval needed to become law.
Arkansas addressed a different kind of drug bill, voting to uphold counties' rights to remain dry despite a big push by alcohol lobbyists to open up the whole state to liquor sales.
Bill Bunkley, president of the Florida Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and legislative consultant to the Florida Baptist State Convention, said the election results reflected a protest against the president's failed leadership and "did not alter the underlying divisions we have in America in the area of the social issues."
This explains the obvious disconnect between the victories of numerous conservative candidates and the defeats of numerous conservative positions on ballot initiatives, he said.
"Though I hope this protest vote would tilt us more to the right as a nation," he said, "I've learned long ago that it's probably just a momentary swing of that proverbial pendulum."
Land was impressed with GOP gains across the board, especially in liberal states like Maine, Maryland and Massachusetts that elected Republican governors. But he warned the new majority in both houses of Congress that voters did not approve a particular agenda, just a change in leadership.
"The GOP has an opportunity ... not a mandate ... but an opportunity," he said. "Now they need to prove they are the party of Main Street and not the party of Wall Street."
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Democrats 174, Republicans 242 (GOP nets 8, 19 not decided)
Democrats 43, Republicans 52, Independents 2 (GOP nets 7 with 3 races not called)
Democrats 15, Republicans 31 (GOP nets 2, 4 votes still close)