Nov. 05

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New Senate: DEM 46     Ties 1     GOP 53

New polls:  
Dem pickups: (None)

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Republicans Capture the Senate

The Republicans had a great day yesterday, capturing all the competitive Senate seats except Louisiana, which will go to a runoff on Dec. 2 Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) is strongly favored to win the runoff. Assuming he wins and the other states remain as they are now (Virginia and Alaska could yet flip), the Republicans will pick up 9 seats and have 54 seats in the new Senate. It is also possible that Sen. Angus King (I-ME) will jump ship and caucus with the Republicans. All in all, this looks like another wave election. While former House Speaker Tip O'Neill once famously said: "All politics is local," that has been completely reversed this year. Starting now, all politics is national. A Republican running for dogcatcher could probably blame all the stray dogs on Obama and win.

This was going to be a very difficult year for the Democrats no matter what else happened. For starters, the President's party nearly always loses seats in the both the Senate and House in the 6th year of a President's term, as shown below.

Senate seats gained

Bars below zero (all but 1962, 1970, and 2002) represent losses for the President's party. The color shows the President's party. And 2002 was the first election after Sept. 11, 2001, and even with George W. Bush's popularity sky high, the Republicans won only two seats.

A second factor is the map. The class II senators, who were up this year, are largely concentrated in deep red states that normally send Republicans to the Senate. In 2008, Democrats there held tightly to Obama's coattails and won. Now these senators were on their own and the situation returned to normal: red states elect Republican senators. One case in point: Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) has been a centrist senator, ran a flawless campaign against a highly unpopular state representative, had tons of money, and still lost.

A third factor is the low turnout of minorities and young people--key Democratic constituencies--in midterms, and those who did turn out were prevented from voting in some cases by new laws requiring IDs that many poor people don't have and can't afford to get. Recent Supreme Court decisions on voter ID laws and campaign spending by outside groups have helped the Republicans enormously.

A fourth factor is the low approval ratings of President Obama. While technically he was not on the ballot, de facto he was on the ballot in 36 Senate races and 36 gubernatorial races. Almost every Republican in the country ran on the slogan: "The country's a mess and it's Obama's fault." To some extent, this election resembled 2006, when most voters said the country was headed in the wrong direction and George W. Bush got the blame.

Now that Republicans control both chambers of Congress, they will be expected to govern. Passing bills to repeal the ACA once a week is not likely to be the ticket to win in 2016, when the map strongly favors the Democrats, with 24 Republican senators up for reelection, many of them in blue or purple states, and only 10 Democrats up for reelection. Governing won't be easy for majority leader Mitch McConnell, with a number of new tea party senators showing up in January, most of whom will take their marching orders from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), not McConnell.

Republicans Also Do Well in Gubernatorial Races

While races for governor have been overshadowed by the battle for the Senate, there were some real foodfights out there for governor as well. In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) was reelected over Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist. In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) was also reelected over bicycle executive Mary Burke. Walker is a likely Presidential candidate in 2016 because he appeals to both the tea party and the establishment, something that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) do not.

In Kansas, embattled Gov. Sam Brownback (R-KS) won another term, as did Gov. Paul LePage (R-ME). LePage was helped by a liberal independent candidate who siphoned off enough Democratic votes to elect LePage, just as he did four years ago. In Georgia, Gov. Nathan Deal (R-GA), who is enmeshed in various scandals, still beat Jimmy Carter's grandson, Jason Carter. Gov. Rick Snyder (R-MI) also was reelected.

Not only did the Republicans hold their own in key races, but they also picked up governorships in Massachusetts, Maryland, and Illinois.

The only bright spot for the Democrats in governors' races was the replacement of unpopular governor Tom Corbett (R-PA) with Democrat Tom Wolf.

How Did We Do?

If you compare yesterday's map with today's, you will see that we called only one state wrong. Like almost everyone else, we expected Sen. Kay Hagen (D-NC) to win. She had been leading in almost all polls for weeks, but somehow all the polls were wrong. In Kansas, yesterday we said Kansas was too close to call, but Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) just rode the national Republican tide to victory.

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