Sam Wang observes that Republican Senate candidates outperformed late-campaign polls by a surprising margin:
Tonight’s performance by the GOP has been quite remarkable. In close Senate races, Republicans seem to be outperforming polls by around 5 percentage points. That goes a long way toward explaining what is happening in Virginia. In close gubernatorial races, Republicans are outperforming polls by about 3 percentage points. I did say that historically, midterm polling can be off in either direction by a median of 3 percentage points – far worse than Presidential years. Tonight is certainly consistent with that.
Harry Enten highlights the gubernatorial races, in which the GOP also had “an amazing night”:
The GOP won all the close races in which its candidates were favored, such as Michigan and Wisconsin. Republicans won the vast majority of close races in which they were slight underdogs, such as Florida, Illinois and Maine. They won in Kansas, where we gave the GOP incumbent, Sam Brownback, only a 20 percent chance. And Republicans have even taken Maryland, where they had only a 6 percent chance of winning according to our last pre-election forecast.
In Josh Marshall’s opinion, that’s the big news:
To me, in evaluating the significance of the night’s results, the governors’ races are the bigger tell than the senate seats. The truth is that the Democrats were fighting for the Senate on a merciless, largely red-state terrain. They had some key retirements on top of that. The governors’ races are quite a different matter. Scott Walker wins – three election victories in four years, an undeniable credential for national office. Sam Brownback holds on in Kansas, a state which he’s basically run straight into the ground and torn apart the state GOP. That can only be explained by a tide bringing him over. Illinois, Florida, Connecticut (possible), Colorado (possible), Maryland. These results aren’t about terrain or candidates. They’re about the national political climate.
Larison is a bit surprised at the Republican wave:
All of this suggests that most observers, myself included, underestimated the extent to which Republicans would dominate this election. The GOP ran an almost purely negative campaign and said almost nothing substantive about policy, and they have been rewarded with one of the biggest gains in Senate seats they have ever achieved in a midterm vote. Republicans can’t claim a mandate for anything, but with control of both houses of Congress they don’t need to have one to stymie and thwart the administration on any issue they choose. Now that they have just won a major victory running on nothing, that is what I assume they will do.
But Yglesias just shrugs:
There’s no need to over-interpret the election. If there’s anything we’ve learned watching the see-saw of 2008 followed by 2010 followed by 2012, it’s that the American electorate has no problem turning on a dime. But let’s not under-interpret it, either. Democrats were dealt a bad hand this year, but they lost even worse than that. You can tell a complicated story about why, but the fact that Obama’s approval ratings are stuck in the low forties summarize it pretty well. Right now, the country isn’t happy with the Democratic Party or its leader. And on Election Day, Democrats paid the price.
Saletan tries to cheer up Democrats by pointing to Republicans who campaigned on traditionally liberal issues:
1. Poverty. Democratic incumbents spent a lot of time talking about new jobs, economic growth, and other aggregate numbers that have been going in the right direction. Republican challengers undercut that message by focusing on people at the bottom. From California to Georgia to Virginia, Republicans called attention to high or rising poverty rates.
2. Minorities. Republicans also zeroed in on blacks and other underserved populations. In Louisiana right-wing candidate Rob Maness pointed out, “Unemployment for young black men in this state is three times the rate of unemployment for anybody else.” In Georgia, Republican Gov. Nathan Deal emphasized the state’s progress toward reducing the number of black men in jail.
3. Equal pay. Republicans researched how much money Democratic officeholders paid their male and female staffers. Any Democrat who paid women less was called out for it, regardless of circumstances. Republicans used this tactic in at least five states: Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, New Hampshire, and Oregon.
Ambers asks what tonight’s results and exit polls tell us about the electorate:
First, the electorate was not overwhelmingly Republican or conservative, even though it was relatively more conservative than the country as a whole. In fact, from the national exit poll: 58 percent of those surveyed believe that undocumented immigrants should receive a legal pathway to citizenship. Fifty-three percent say that abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances. A majority support a rise in the minimum wage for hourly workers.
The big numbers show the economy is improving as a whole. But real wages and personal income aren’t growing while wealth inequality is. We may put too much faith in predicting elections based on the gross domestic product or unemployment rate, especially in the hangover (Ben White’s phrase) from the Great Recession. I’m looking for hard figures to back this up, but the combination of anti-government sentiment, a sense that when government does intervene, it intervenes in ways that mess things up, and a sense that the economy is not improving adds up to an electorate that does not believe that the administration is competent enough to handle the big problems of the day. That’s a referendum on President Obama’s governing.
David Corn recommends a little Democratic soul-searching:
Perhaps it is nearly impossible for a president and his aides to govern well in difficult times (crafting complex and often not fully satisfying responses to knotty problems at home and abroad) and promote clear political messaging that consistently cuts through the chaff and connects with stressed-out voters freaked out about the future. Yet elections work… for those who use them. And angry Republicans have once again taken advantage of Democratic disaffection, disappointment, apathy, or whatever. Now, in part because Obama could not convince voters in Iowa, Colorado, and elsewhere to stick with him and the policies he champions, many of his accomplishments are at risk, and the nation faces the prospect of more gridlock and chaos in Washington. But Democrats ought not to blame him alone. When it comes to saying who is at fault, they need to say, “We are.”
Beinart identifies “one big takeaway from tonight’s Republican landslide that should worry Democrats a lot”:
The GOP is growing hungrier to win. It’s about time. As a general rule, the longer a party goes without holding the White House, the hungrier it becomes. And the hungrier it becomes, the more able it is to discard damaging elements of party orthodoxy while still rousing its political base. … Republicans in 2014 combined candidate impurity with grassroots passion, which is what they’ll need to do to win in 2016. Achieving this combination is tougher in presidential elections. It’s hard to deviate from Limbaughesque orthodoxy when you’re competing for the hard right voters who dominate the Iowa caucuses and the South Carolina primary. … But if the 2010 midterms revealed a GOP fixated on ideological purity, 2014 has showcased the party’s new tolerance, and even enthusiasm, for pragmatism.
(Photo: Senator Mark Udall gives his concession speech at the Democrat’s Party at the Westin November 4, 2014 in Denver. By John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images)