The results are in...what does it mean for rural?
Depending on where you come in on the political scale, this week's election results were either demoralizing, encouraging, or maybe even a little of both. Democrats all around the country faced a tough election night, and that fact was just as if not more apparent in rural America. The bulk of the Democratic House, Senate and Governors races took place in the Midwest, South and interior western states such as Utah and Nevada. In fact, the Democrats failed to win a seat in any one of the 11 states which made up the old Confederacy.
In the House races, few Democrat were safe, even traditional House stalwarts such as Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt from South Carolina, Transportation Committee Chairman James Oberstar from Minnesota and Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton from Missouri all lost to Republican challengers. Additionally, many rural champions lost their elections last night in rural states and districts across the country such as Representatives Earl Pomeroy, Chairman of the House Rural Health Care Coalition, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin from South Dakota, Chet Edward from Texas and Rick Boucher from south-western, rural Virginia. Many of the losing Democrats were part of the House Rural Health Care Coalition which saw 37 of its members lose in this election, accounting for roughly 25% of the total Coalition.
While the Democrats’ majority survived in the Senate, it did not come without some significant losses. In Midwestern states Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois and North Dakota, Democrats saw seats formerly held by big name senators Russ Feingold, Evan Bayh, Barack Obama and Byron Dorgan all fall to Republican candidates, Ron Johnson, former senator Dan Coats, former Congressman Mark Kirk and John Hoeven. Longtime rural health advocate Senator Blanche Lincoln was soundly defeated by the Republican former Congressman John Boozman. In Colorado, Senator Michael Bennett held onto win in a very close race with Ken Buck, though that race may have a recount. In Alaska, it appears as though, long time rural champion Lisa Murkowski successfully withstood a Tea Party challenge from Joe Miller and is in position to win with a write-in campaign; however, the results of that election may take some time to determine as write-in votes still need to be officially counted. And in Washington State, three-term Senator Patty Murray is still in a very close race with a popular former Republican candidate for governor and businessman Dino Rossi, as votes continue to be counted. (Update: Murray has won reelection)
All politics aside, the losses of long time supporters of rural health care like Representatives Earl Pomeroy, Chet Edwards and Senator Blanche Lincoln (to name a few) are unfortunate. Just as would be the case were the Senate to lose Republican Lisa Murkowski. The National Rural Health Association, however, is confident that enhancing rural health care is an issue that transcends party lines, and therefore looks forward to new and continued relationships with all members of the 112th Congress.