In the aftermath of the best electoral night for the Republicans since the age of flappers, I thought I would share a few reflections on some of the common memes that have sprouted up over the past 24 hours.
Evidently at about 4 in the morning CNN was running with a headline on their website that read “Split Decision.” Even less hopeless cases pondered why the GOP seemingly didn’t do as well in the Senate as it did in the House. While it’s true that there were some disappointing results in Nevada, Colorado, and West Virginia, the fact of the matter is the Republicans won 25 of the 37 contested Senatorial contests. Republicans had to defend 19 of their own seats and then win an additional ten in order to gain majority control of the Senate, a rather long-shot proposition to begin with. As it is the Republicans won two-thirds of all Senate contests, lost none of their own seats and picked up six in the process. That would be a good night by any measure.
This is just the nature of the Senate with its staggered elections. Not only were Democrats only putting up less than one-third of the seats they held before the night started, but these were in by-and-large solidly Democratic states. Except for the aforementioned seats these were all races in states where the GOP wave did little damage: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, New York (x2), Oregon and Vermont (Washington still has not been decided). In a year in which they picked up over 60 House seats, Republicans only gained a net total of four seats in these states, and five of those were in New York, which started the evening with two seats out of a 29-member delegation (two of the three seats the GOP lost came from this group – Hawaii and Delaware, with a pickup in the first Congressional District in Maryland). Republicans should be disappointed with some missed opportunities, but overall the party did as well in the upper chamber as it did in the lower chamber, and is set up for a lot of prime pickup opportunities in 2012 (which is exactly what the Democrats thought in 2008 about 2010).
Another common talking point that has emerged is that this election was not a vote of confidence by the electorate for the GOP. Well duh. Mid-term elections such as this one are always more a vote against the incumbent party than for the opposition. While the gap between support for the Republican party and the actual vote it received yesterday is a fairly wide one, there is nothing particularly unique about what we’ve just witnessed. Democrats have been quick to point out that the public hasn’t really embraced the Republican party, especially since the GOP did not really present much of a platform for the public to validate. Well that’s interesting, because I don’t really recall much of a unified or coherent platform pushed by the Democrats in 2006 other than “don’t you just hate that George Bush fellow?” Even the 2008 election, while being somewhat of an affirmation of, Barack Obama, was still mainly built on the “George Bush is the locus of evil in the modern world” platform. Heck, Democrats were still using anti-Bushism in 2010. And yet I don’t think Democrats were all that concerned about the lack of affirmative public support for them when they swept into power four years ago.
All tidal wave mid-terms are essentially expressions of intense voter dissatisfaction with the incumbent party. Whether the party that is the beneficiary of voter angst can translate that into long-term success really hinges upon the proceeding presidential election.
A couple of other random observations: This is the first time in a century that a party has won control of the House but not simultaneously won control of the Senate. I’ll delve more into what the ramifications of that might be in a future post, but I will say that this is not totally without recent precedent. Even though Republicans remained in the minority in the House after Reagan’s landslide in 1980, the coalition of Reagan Democrats and Republicans did give the party something like de facto control. Meanwhile, Republicans did have majority control of the Senate. In 1982 the Democrats won back 27 seats, and the House shifted decidedly left, but the Senate remained in Republican hands. Could this be a parallel situation? Democrats would hope so, though I suspect not.
I mentioned it on the live blog last night, but the biggest advances for the Republicans were in the following states: Virginia, Indiana, Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. What do all those states have in common? Those are all swing states that swung for Obama in 2008. And even though they didn’t do as well in Congressional races for North Carolina, they picked up the state’s legislature for the first time in 130 years.
And of course that is one other huge but downplayed story of the election. Nineteen state legislative bodies (either House or Senate, and in some states both) switched from Democratic to Republican hands. Last night witnessed the dying gasps of the Democratic party in old Dixie, although the Republicans won in state legislative races in every region. The one sour note was that an expected semi-rejuvenation in New England didn’t quite materialize, though Republicans did win both New Hampshire House seats. Otherwise, the GOP is zero for New England (in the House).
Finally, I think the fact that last night’s results were largely expected blunts the significance of this election. The GOP was written off as dead not even two years ago. Even late into last year it would have been considered a 50-50 proposition for the Republicans to win back the House of Representatives. That they have rebounded, and rebounded well past where they were four years ago, is an amazing comeback story. Now what they do with that “second life,” well, that remains to be seen.