Published 10/1/2014
Elizabeth Fassbender

Power Shift Possible after Midterm Elections

Republicans likely to take total control of Congress

In the 2010 midterm elections, a wave of Republicans surged into the 112th Congress, consolidating the GOP hold on the House of Representatives. Although the Republican onslaught is unlikely to be repeated, this year’s midterm elections may shift the balance in the Senate, where the GOP is expecting to capture the majority.

Historically, midterm elections tend to reflect public attitudes toward the incumbent president. According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted Sept. 3–7 by Hart Research Associates (D) and Public Opinion Strategies (R), more than half (54 percent) of those surveyed disapprove of the job President Obama is doing. “The combination of an unpopular president and a midterm election (indeed, a second midterm) can produce disastrous results for the president’s party,” wrote political pollster Stu Rothenberg in an article for Roll Call.

Indeed, with many voters still critical of the healthcare law, the economy generally, and most recently, foreign policy, Democrats are bracing for an ugly midterm election. That has Mr. Rothenberg believing that Republicans may gain at least seven Senate seats. Specifically, open seats in West Virginia, Montana, and South Dakota are all expected to go to Republican candidates.

In addition to winning the three open seats, however, Republicans would need to win a net of three more seats to become the Senate majority. That may be more difficult to accomplish, because candidates will have to beat current incumbents. According to Roll Call, at least four Democratic Senate incumbents are facing difficult races: Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu (against Rep. Bill Cassidy, MD), Arkansas’ Mark Pryor (against Rep. Tom Cotton), Alaska’s Mark Begich (against Dan Sullivan), and North Carolina’s Kay Hagan (against State Rep. Thom Tillis).

Republicans also believe they have a chance to win in three other Senate races. In Michigan, Sen. Carl Levin is retiring, leaving the field open for a face-off between Rep. Gary Peters (D) and former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land (R). Oregon’s Democratic incumbent Sen. Jeff Merkley is being challenged by pediatric neurosurgeon Monica Wehby, MD (R). Although it may be a long-shot, former National Republican Committee Chair Ed Gillespie is taking on incumbent Sen. Mark Warner in Virginia.

House races have received less national media attention; most analysts agree that Republicans will expand their 17-seat House majority by anywhere from 2 to 12 seats.

Physician candidates
Currently, 20 members of Congress are also physicians. Rep. Tom Price, MD (R-Ga.), for example, is an orthopaedic surgeon who has consistently championed the interests of physicians; Rep. Phil Roe, MD (R-Tenn.), an obstetrician, is co-chair of the Physician’s Caucus and addressed the 2014 AAOS National Orthopaedic Leadership Conference.

As previously noted, two physicians are involved in Senate races (Rep. Bill Cassidy, MD, in Louisiana and Monica Wehby, MD, in Oregon). Physicians running for seats in the House (either as incumbents or challengers) include ophthalmologists Mariannette Miller-Meeks, MD (Iowa), and Nan Hayworth, MD (N.Y.), internists Alieta Eck, MD (N.J.), and Manan Trivedi, MD (Pa.), and dentist Brian Babin, DDS (Texas).

A handful of other physician candidates saw their bids for Congress cut short by primary losses. In Georgia, ENT physician Bob Johnson, MD, lost a primary run-off election to pharmacist Buddy Carter. In Pennsylvania, obstetric anesthesiologist Val Arkoosh, MD, was defeated in a crowded Democratic primary to replace retiring Rep. Allyson Schwartz, who made an unsuccessful bid to become the Democratic candidate for governor.

Vanila Singh, MD, placed third in her attempt to challenge Republican incumbent Rep. Mike Honda in California. Under the state’s new election rules, this is now a Democrat vs. Democrat matchup, one of seven intraparty face-offs taking place in California. Orthopaedic surgeon Chad Mathis, MD, lost his bid in Alabama’s 6th congressional district, which is solidly Republican.

For many—including orthopaedic surgeon Julio Gonzalez, MD, who is running for state office in Florida—the desire to pursue politics comes from a desire to educate Congress and to ensure that those with medical expertise are involved in crafting the nation’s healthcare laws and regulations.

AAOS Candidate Workshop
To help physicians from around the country learn more about the process of running for office and prepare them for a possible switch to politics, the AAOS joins the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Society of Anesthesiologists, the American College of Radiology, and the American Dental Association in hosting an annual Specialty Physician and Dentist Candidate Workshop. The 2014 event, held in August, was attended by more than 20 physicians and dentists from around the country—nearly half of them orthopaedic surgeons. It was a full-day course packed with essential campaign preparatory information. Stuart L. Weinstein, MD, chair of the Orthopaedic Political Action Committee, gave the opening address.

The workshop featured several political experts who discussed topics such as developing and sticking to a campaign plan, messaging and fund-raising strategies, and the pros and cons of various communications outlets. Other topics included how to first consider and then make the leap from medicine to political office. To close the day, attendees heard a campaign case study presented by Coy Flowers, MD, an obstetrician currently running for West Virginia’s House of Delegates.

With many health policy challenges on the horizon, electing individuals who understand and care about the future of medicine is more important than ever before. Fortunately, physician involvement in political office has grown considerably in recent years.

Physicians naturally possess attributes that are attractive to voters. They are well educated, credible, compassionate, and often small business owners. In addition, they often have a dependable network of patients, colleagues, and others, which is necessary to build a strong grassroots campaign and acquire donations. Although being a physician candidate is challenging, participants in the workshop were provided with a realistic outlook on how to run a modern and well-executed campaign for any elected office from school board or city council to Congress.

For more information on attending a future Specialty Physician and Dentist Candidate Workshop, please contact Kristin Leighty at leighty@aaos.org or 202-548-4150.

Elizabeth Fassbender is the communications specialist in the AAOS office of government relations. She can be reached at fassbender@aaos.org

Group photo (PDF)