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Winners and Losers for Silicon Valley in Tuesday’s Election

Republicans won control of the Senate, but other results could impact the tech community.

Brandon Bourdages/Shutterstock

While the big story Tuesday night was the Republican wave that gives control of the Senate back to the GOP in January, there were plenty of smaller races that are of interest to the tech community.

One Race a Democrat Was Sure to Win

Here’s the thing: Rep. Mike Honda and challenger Ro Khanna agreed on many policy issues. But they represented two different sides, and generations, of the Democratic party.

Honda, the 73-year-old seven-term congressman, was a more traditional liberal, backed by labor unions, progressive groups and Democratic party leaders. Khanna, 38, was seen as more business friendly, a lawyer and former Commerce Department official who hobnobs with the Silicon Valley elite.

Mostly, they disagreed on who could best represent the people of the 17th congressional district and they spent a combined $7.3 million trying to woo voters. Picking off a popular incumbent is hard in the best of times and it appeared Wednesday morning that Khanna may not have managed it.

Honda had 52 percent of votes cast, compared to Khanna’s 48 percent, with all of the election-day votes counted. Khanna’s team hadn’t conceded as of 8 am ET, noting in an email to supporters that they had gained ground on Honda among absentee ballots, which hadn’t all been counted yet. “In the general election, 36.2 percent of the electorate voted as late absentee, which means that a huge amount of ballots are left to be counted,” his campaign said.

NSA Reform Just Got a Bit Harder

Colorado Sen. Mark Udall’s focus on women’s reproductive issues baffled many and appeared to help lead to his defeat Tuesday night by Republican Rep. Cory Gardner. Udall’s loss was mostly seen as a much-needed pickup by Republicans hoping to retake the Senate.

But for the tech community and others who support curbing the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance programs, Udall’s loss will be keenly felt. Udall was among a handful of Senators who led the effort to limit the U.S. intelligence community’s information gathering on Americans. The Senate still hasn’t passed the USA Freedom Act, legislation aimed at limiting the NSA’s mass surveillance efforts somewhat, and it’s not clear what will happen with that bill now.

Mayday, Mayday!

Harvard Law professor Larry Lessig’s $10.6 million effort to make campaign finance an election issue ended badly Tuesday night, as five of the Super PAC’s seven candidates on the ballet Tuesday lost. Two races particularly hurt. Democrat Rick Weiland lost in the South Dakota Senate race despite a late $1.25 million bet by Mayday and Republican Rep. Fred Upton easily beat a Mayday-backed Democratic challenger.

Mayday PAC

Upton’s victory may particularly sting the tech community — which backed Mayday with millions of dollars in donations — since it means that he’ll remain chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over Internet, telecommunications and the media industries. Upton won Tuesday with the same percent of the vote — 55 percent — that he got in 2012. His opponent, Paul Clements, attracted three percent fewer votes than Upton’s 2012 challenger.

Among the Mayday-backed losers Tuesday: Rep. Carol Shea-Porter in New Hampshire, who lost to Republican Frank Guinta, who has held the seat before. In Iowa, Staci Appel lost to Republican David Young 53 percent to 42 percent. And in Kansas, independent candidate Greg Orman wasn’t able to knock off incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts, who gained help from all corners of the Republican party who were terrified he was about to lose the seat (and their chance to retake the Senate).

Only two of eight Mayday-backed candidates will be headed to Congress. Ruben Gallego, a former Democratic state representative, won an Arizona congressional seat unopposed by a Republican challenger while North Carolina Republican Rep. Walter Jones won reelection over an ill-funded Democratic opponent in a heavily conservative district. Unfortunately for Mayday, it spent relatively little in both races and got involved in both of them pretty late in the game.

Quiet Victory for Net Neutrality Advocate

Comcast’s* least favorite lawmaker, Democrat Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, easily won reelection, defeating his Republican opponent by an 11 percentage point margin. It must have felt great, since the first time he ran, Franken won by just 312 votes.

Al Franken interviewed on a radio show at the Minnesota State Fair in August 2014
Al Franken interviewed on a radio show at the Minnesota State Fair in August 2014

National Republicans initially targeted Franken, but soon gave that up as the former professional comedian — and most consciously unfunny guy in the Senate — banked millions for the 2014 race and spent a lot of time with constituents back in Minnesota. Throughout the summer, Franken consistently polled ahead of his opponent, Republican investment banker Mike McFadden.

His re-election is important for the tech community for several reasons. Franken has been an active force on the Senate Judiciary Committee and while he defended the National Security Agency somewhat after the Edward Snowden mass surveillance revelations, he has also said President Obama’s NSA reform proposal didn’t go far enough.

Franken has also been a vocal proponent of tougher net neutrality rules.

At Least He Has a Beautiful Home

Sean Eldridge meets potential voters at Taste of the Catskills.
Sean Eldridge meets potential voters at Taste of the Catskills.

Finally, no surprise on this one, but Sean Eldridge, the investor/activist and husband of Facebook co-founder (and New Republic owner) Chris Hughes lost his bid to become a congressman representing New York’s Hudson Valley. Despite plenty of donations from tech luminaries, Eldridge was never able to overcome the carpetbagger image he got after buying a multimillion-dollar mansion in the area. Eldridge conceded early Tuesday night, losing 65 percent to 35 percent to incumbent Republican Rep. Chris Gibson.

* Comcast owns NBCUniversal, which is a minority investor in Revere Digital, Re/code’s parent company.

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