One of America’s most important elections was not a Presidential one, it was a mid-term Congressional election. The election of 1994 handed the Democratic Party, which had controlled the U.S. House of Representatives since 1955, one of the most crushing political defeats in American political history. In total, the Democrats lost 54 seats in the U.S. House, and eight seats in the U.S. Senate during the election.
The Democrats lost control of both the U.S. Senate and House in 1994. The defeat of the Democrats was in direct response to voter dissatisfaction with the presidency of then-President Bill Clinton, and his administration’s liberal agenda.
Clinton entered office in 1993 with a comfortable Electoral College over George H.W. Bush. Bush lost popularity when he went back on a 1988 campaign promise to not raise taxes. Many independent voters not trusting Bush, and concerned about a lagging economy, voted for Clinton.
Clinton entered office attempting to portray himself as a centrist. However, his appointments to the cabinet and other posts in his administration quacking gave voters a cue that he intended to pursue very liberal policies.
Many voters felt frustrated at Clinton’s seeming shift to the left. In 1994 the internet was not yet, although it soon would be, a major force in American social or communications. However, voters found a mass media format to vent their frustration, and to help them mobilize. This format was radio.
Commercial radio’s history in the United States dates back to the early 1920’s. However, despite its age radio was a critical player for the Republicans in 1994. Talk radio during the 1990s hit a zenith. National radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh, G. Gordon Liddy, and others used humor to ridicule Clinton and liberal Democratic policies.
Limbaugh’s mid-day talk radio show was the most listened to radio program in the nation during the election season of 1994. Limbaugh’s program discussed the issues of the day with a touch of humor. He had a Bill Clinton impersonators come on the program.
He also had song parodies poking fun at liberal members of the Senate such as Ted Kennedy, President Clinton, animal rights activists, and radical environmentalists. The mixture of conservative opinion and comedy not only proved to be popular with audiences, the programs such as Limbaugh’s motivated many to become engaged with the Republican Party during the 1994 election campaign.
A second factor which helped the Republican defeat the Democrats in 1994 was the Contract for American. The Contract for American is the first time, and the only time, that a major political party has successfully nationalized a Congressional election. The contract which developed by then House Minority Leader Newt Gingrich, with many ideas being borrowed from the Heritage Foundation, offered a conscience agenda of government reform, and conservative goals.
Gingrich’s plan received a great deal of favorable airplay on talk radio. The Contract for America gave voters a clear statement of principles their local Republican candidate for Congress would support. The contract provided a unique rallying point which voters could embrace.
Beyond giving the Republican Party control of the Senate, and the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time since 1953. The election represented a major change in American politics. The Republican Party became the majority party in the U.S. winning more local, state, and congressional races than the Democrats.
The election gave evidence than the then alternative media of talk radio could be a powerful force. Today talk radio still plays an important role in educating, and influencing voters nationally and locally here in our area.
There a lesson for today’s candidates and political parties from the 1994 elections. Communicating your message in a clear and fun manner is a winning strategy.
Dan Cravens lives in Blackfoot with his wife Jill and family. He is the Bingham County Republican Central Committee Chairman, and holds a Master of Arts in Government from Regent University, a Juris Doctorate from Gonzaga University School of Law, and a Doctor of Business Administration degree from Argosy University – Salt Lake City.