Championing Children is an Electoral Winner
Important lessons from Election 2018 that are being overlooked and unrecognized include: (1) making children and families a legislative and campaign priority was a clear winning formula; and, (2) politicians who choose to ignore or even harm children are likely to suffer the consequences and find themselves on the losing end of elections.
In races all across the country, candidates that championed and made children a priority were big winners on Election Day. Here are some examples:
First, in Pennsylvania, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) is the highest ranked senator in the First Focus Campaign for Children (FFCC) Congressional Scorecard. However, this is a state that President Trump carried in 2016, and so, Republicans targeted Sen. Casey’s Senate seat for a possible pick-up.
Fortunately, Sen. Casey has always put children front and center in his work. He is a Senate leader on the issues of child health, early childhood, child poverty and economic security, and child abuse and neglect. In contrast, his opponent was Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA), who unfortunately, has one of the worst records in the House on children’s issues. This difference proved to be a positive contrast for the Senator in his victory. It wasn’t even close.
In fact, over the course of election night in which Pennsylvania elected 9 Republicans and 9 Democrats to represent the Keystone State in Congress, voters overwhelmingly voted for Sen. Casey’s re-election and his pro-child agenda by a wide 56–43 percent margin (over 625,000 votes).
Meanwhile, in the House, one of the leading Republicans in Congress on children’s issues has been Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA). Although Democrats picked up four congressional seats last evening after districts were redrawn after the State lost a gerrymandering lawsuit, Rep. Fitzpatrick won re-election, in part, by promoting his record on children’s issues and awards from the Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children and First Focus Campaign for Children.
Again, helping kids is an electoral winner, regardless of party affiliation.
In Ohio, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) is the 2nd highest ranked senator on the FFCC Scorecard, particularly for his work in support of children’s health (Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program) and child poverty.
In a state that President Trump carried by a wide margin in 2016, the President and Vice President Mike Pence attempted to target Sen. Brown for defeat. His opponent was Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH), who raised a great deal of money but had a poor record on children’s issues.
On an evening when Ohio voters were electing 12 Republicans and just 4 Democrats to the House of Representatives and Republicans to every other statewide position, Sen. Brown won reelection by an impressive 285,000 votes (53–47 percent).
Two House Republicans, Steve Stivers (R-OH) and Michael Turner (R-OH), were also recognized in the FFCC Scorecard for their work in support of children. Both Stivers and Turner won impressive 19 and 14 percentage point victories, respectively, in their re-election contests.
Furthermore, in the Ohio governor’s race, Mike DeWine (R-OH) won by a 51–46 percent margin after touting his work as Attorney General related to child abuse and neglect and laying out an affirmative campaign agenda in support of investing in early childhood and home visiting programs.
DeWine has also been a long-standing supporter of children health issues (supporting the Children’s Health Insurance Program, supporting pediatric medical research, and opposing Medicaid block grants) when he previously served in the U.S. Senate.
The Senate’s fourth highest ranked Champion for Children is Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and she successfully campaigned on her work related to numerous children’s issues to win re-election by a 52–46 percent margin (220,000 votes). Sen. Stabenow is a leader in the Senate on children’s health, child nutrition, and issues such as getting Congress to take action to help address the lead crisis in Flint, Michigan, and was recently honored for that work at a Children’s Budget Summit on Capitol Hill.
In the Michigan governor’s race, Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) made education one of her top campaign issues and flipped the Governor’s seat from red-to-blue by a wide 53–44 percent margin. In a poll just before the election, Michigan voters gave Whitmer a 16-point edge over her opponent on education and health care issues, as her support for children helped her coast to victory.
Michigan’s other Champions for Children are Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), and they both cruised by overwhelming victories (41 and 67 percentage point margins) in their respective House races.
In Wisconsin, the state’s two highest profile races featured children’s issues.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), a four-time Champion for Children, has supported kids across an array of issue areas and collected more votes that every other candidate seeking statewide office last night in defeating her opponent by a double digits (11 percentage points) and nearly 290,000 votes.
Meanwhile, in an upset in the governor’s race, Tony Evers (D-WI), who is a lifelong educator, challenged sitting Wisconsin governor and former presidential candidate Scott Walker (R-WI). Evers put children’s issues, including early childhood, public schools, higher education, and health care, at the forefront of his campaign to successfully upset Governor Walker by 1.2 percentage points.
Wisconsin’s House Champions for Children are Gwen Moore (D-WI), Mark Pocan (D-WI), and Ron Kind (D-WI) and they all won by overwhelming margins last evening as well.
Moving from the U.S.-Canadian border to the U.S.-Mexico border, two Members of Congress, Reps. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) and Steve Pearce (R-NM), squared off in a race to be elected Governor of New Mexico.
This race represented a wide divide between the two candidates on children’s issues, as Lujan Grisham was one of Congress’s leading Champions for Children while Pearce was among the lowest ranked members.
Lujan Grisham made early childhood, education, health care, child poverty, child abuse and neglect, and the separation of immigrant families centerpiece issues of her campaign to flip the governor’s seat from red-to-blue.
In the end, this campaign wasn’t even close, as Lujan Grisham defeated Pearce by 14 percentage points (57–43 percent).
Other New Mexico Champions for Children on the ballot included Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) and they also won their re-election campaigns by 23 and 32 percent, respectively.
Moving further west to Nevada’s race for U.S. Senate, this was a contest between a current Champion for Children in Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and a former (but not current) Defender for Children Dean Heller (R-NV).
During the debate over health care reform, Rep. Rosen voted to defend children from devastating Medicaid cuts and from attacks on protections for pre-existing conditions while Sen. Heller expressed concerns but then voted in favor of both the Medicaid cuts and language that would undercut pre-existing conditions protections.
In fact, Heller joined an effort being pushed by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) that disproportionately cut children’s health funding in Medicaid by 31 percent.
Although it would prove difficult to challenge and defeat and incumbent senator, Rep. Rosen led with health care and education issues and defeated Heller by a comfortable 50–45 percent margin.
Champions for Children Largely Won Their Races
In race after race last night, politicians that made children a priority in their work and campaigns won congressional seats. With rare exceptions, those members that were recognized for their work on children’s policy won re-election and soundly defeated those with a poorer record on the issues.
This is important because the four senators running in the states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Michigan on their record as Champions for Children were far from certain winners at the beginning of the campaign cycle. All four Democratic candidates were running in purple states that Trump had won in 2016 and was actively working to flip their Senate seats to Republican in 2018. Trump failed.
In fact, Sens. Casey, Brown, Stabenow, and Baldwin soundly defeated their opponents by more than a combined 1.4 million votes and an average of 9 percentage points.
Although Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton in 2016, he won the Electoral College by winning three of those states — Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan — by less than 80,000 votes. Trump understands that a presidential candidate that can win Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan as these senators did along with the states won by Clinton would defeat him in 2020.
Clearly, leading on children’s issues in this election cycle was a winning proposition in those key states. However, the fact is that a diverse set of legislative candidates from all across the country that make children a legislative priority, such as Sens. Angus King (I-ME), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI), all comfortably won re-election. It also proved potent in a number of races where the seats were open, including the governors’ races in New Mexico and Ohio, or where there was a major flip, such as in the Nevada Senate race.
Even in those rare instances where a candidate who was strong on children’s issues lost, their opponent typically prevailed on a platform that was either equally strong or possibly even better on children’s issues. For example, child advocates are likely disappointed that Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) lost his bid for re-election yesterday, as he was a strong Defender of Children in the FFCC Scorecard.
However, his opponent was Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-FL) and she made education, health care, gun safety, and immigration issues her top priorities in her winning campaign. She will clearly be a strong candidate to be an important leader on children’s issues, and we look forward to working with her in the new Congress.
The Increase in Female Legislators Will Undoubtedly Help Children
Consequently, Election 2018 may prove to be a watershed moment in which important Champions for Children defeated strong challenges to hold their seats and the incoming crop of new legislators, which includes a number of incredible women, such as Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-TX), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), Sharice Davids (D-KS), and pediatrician Kimberly Schrier (D-WA), will be able to move policies of importance to children and families forward in a meaningful way.
According to a variety of projections, when all the ballots are counted, women are expected to win at least 100 seats in the House of Representatives, which easily breaks the current record of 84.
For children, this may have importance implications because the FFCC Scorecard found that women were 2.6 times more likely to lead on children’s issues than men.
With this increase in the number of women in Congress, child advocates should expect and hope that the incoming Congress will perform much better on the full array of issues of importance to children, such as Medicaid, than what we have seen during the last two years. To be frank, it cannot get much worse, as 2017 proved to be one of the worst years in Congress for children in decades.
Just when you think it could not get worse before the election, it somehow did. Even this last weekend, the President proposed to end the Constitution’s 14th Amendment language granted children born in this country birthright citizenship — a policy change that would exclusively target babies and children for enormous harm.
Hopefully, the election will change this to some extent. Since kids can’t vote and don’t typically donate to political action committees (PACs), they need legislators to stand up and make a positive difference for them. Those that won re-election and all the newcomers will hopefully work together to reverse the present negative wrong-track and toward improving the lives of our children.