A few liberal media talking heads are saying today that the Republicans fell short yesterday, since the Democrats held onto control of the Senate. This summary of what happened reminds me of the old joke about the match race during the Cold War between a Russian horse and an American horse. The American horse wins the race easily, and in the next day’s Pravda, the headline is: “Russian horse second, American horse next to last.”
Yes, the Democrats survived and appear to have lost “only” six Senate seats, while losing as many as 65 House seats (and control of the House) and many important governor’s races. That is a big victory for Republicans and conservatives. That said, here are my conclusions from the outcomes across the country.
1. The GOP slaughtered the Democrats in the South. Most of the Blue Dogs in the House, whether they voted for the health care bill or against it, went down. In the states that will gain House seats due to the 2010 census numbers, the GOP had big wins in the governor’s races in Florida, Georgia and Texas, and Republicans appear to have taken control of the state legislature in North Carolina.
2. After an Obama sweep of the Midwest in 2008 (Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, Minnesota, Michigan, and Pennsylvania (they are in the Big Ten after all), the GOP found its footing and made major gains in the region. States in the Midwest are often the decisive swing states in close presidential races, and the GOP performance yesterday in the region augurs well for the 2012 campaign, probably beginning as I write this.
Democrats appear to have held onto the governorship in Illinois and won the governor’s race in Minnesota, each by less than 1%. But the GOP picked up governorships in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Iowa, and Wisconsin, and won an open Senate seat by a big margin in Indiana. GOP House gains were enormous in the Midwest, especially in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Illinois.
Illinois, which had become a deep blue state in recent cycles, now has a U.S. House delegation that favors Republicans by 11-8. The GOP gains in state houses and legislatures will be important in Congressional redistricting since these states will, in many cases, lose House seats when district lines are redrawn.
3. A few of the candidates most strongly identified with the Tea Party had a bad night in key competitive Senate races. Talk radio hosts like Mark Levin had trumpeted Christine O’Donnell, Joe Miller, Ken Buck, and Sharron Angle. At times they had been verbally abusive towards those who argued that some of these candidates were far less electable than the candidates they beat in the GOP primaries.
O’Donnell was beaten by 17%, and Sharron Angle lost by 6% to Harry Reid in a state with 14% unemployment and with Reid sporting the lowest approval ratings of his career. Ken Buck lost in Colorado by a few points, and in Alaska, Joe Miller trails write-in candidate Lisa Murkowski by over 5%, a lead that might hold up, even after badly spelled Murkowski ballots are disqualified.
Each of the four Republican candidates damaged their chances by allowing themselves to become the issue, rather than having their campaigns focus like a laser on the Obama/Pelosi/Reid fiscal disaster in Washington. On the other hand, GOP Senate candidates with little or no baggage and very focused campaigns picked up Senate seats in very hard-fought contests in Illinois and Pennsylvania. They also won big victories in Ohio, Arkansas, North Dakota, Florida, Missouri, New Hampshire, Indiana, and Wisconsin.
The Tea Party had a big role in some of these victories, especially in Wisconsin for Ron Johnson, and in Florida for Marco Rubio. The Tea Party candidates who lost seemed not quite ready for prime time. Odd personal histories, attacks on homosexuality, and prior policy statements that were hard to explain all proved pretty damaging. In New York State, no GOP candidate was likely to win the Senate or governor’s races this year, but the candidates nominated in the primaries were so weak and problematic that it cost the GOP some House seats down-ballot. Weirdness, it seems, is not a path to statewide electoral victories.
4. It is a major achievement for the GOP to have picked up six Senate seats (seven including Scott Brown in January). In 2012, there will be 24 Democratic held seats up and fewer than half that many for the GOP. To repeal or significantly modify the health care reform bill, the GOP needs to win control of the Senate in 2012, hold the House, and win the White House. The GOP can not afford to squander winnable Senate seats in defense of ideological purity. A winnable Delaware U.S. Senate seat was tossed away this year, and if the same tack is taken, Maine could be lost in 2012.
5. The winning issue for the GOP this year was the mismanagement of the economy — the Democrats’ failure to create jobs, the wasteful spending, and the health care bill rammed down the country’s throat on a party line vote with a solid majority of the country opposing the legislation. GOP House and Senate candidates who stayed on message had a good night.
6. The Democrats still rule in a few places. The Democrats swept all the Massachusetts House races, though a few were competitive for the first time in two decades. Deval Patrick won re-election. In Connecticut, while the governor’s race is too close to call, Democrat did win all the other major races. In New York, the GOP picked up five House seats, nothing to sneer at, but the Democrats won the two Senate races and the governor’s race by 25% or more in each case.
In California, well-funded GOP candidates for the U.S. Senate and state governorship lost decisively. In Washington State and Oregon white voters are becoming more like Californians in their voting pattern. Dino Rossi in Washington and Chris Dudley in Oregon are likely to lose close races despite valiant efforts.
7. Nate Silver’s critique of robo-pollsters, especially those who do not call cell phone numbers, was borne out. Rasmussen was off by 3-4% on many calls. Also, the Gallup generic ballot forecast, quite accurate in prior off-year cycles, proved way too high this year (forecasting a 10-15% GOP margin ). The GOP will win the national popular vote for House races by close to 7%. While not 10% or 15%, it is nonetheless a remarkable turnaround from a near 10% Democratic win in House races in 2008.
8. In several key states for the presidential contest in 2012 such as Colorado and Nevada, Hispanics voted heavily for the Democrats. The GOP did better with Hispanics in New Mexico, Texas, and Florida. If the GOP can lead with a sensible, balanced immigration plan (not the Tom Tancredo approach and certainly not amnesty), there is opportunity here for the Republicans and conservatives.
There are now two Hispanic Republican governors and no Hispanic Democratic governors. Marco Rubio is a near certain future national leader for the GOP (you want to see a Reaganesque positive conservative victory speech, watch this). Two African American Republicans were elected to Congress. The only two Asian American governors in the country are Republican. It is going to be a lot harder to tag the GOP as the white party when it is the only party running minority candidates statewide and winning.
And by the way, wasn’t it disturbing that the crowds at the Stewart/Colbert rally were overwhelmingly white?
9. There are several near bankrupt states in America — California, New York, and Illinois, most prominent. Democrats look like they will be running all of them. I think Chris Christie in New Jersey is likely to come off as far more competent than Andrew Cuomo, Jerry Brown, or Pat Quinn in addressing these huge state budget disasters.
10. Let’s hope that the 2012 elections will require some more Pravda-like commentary the day after from the mainstream media.