What we at The Hotline learned this week:
-- Ultimately, the polls were right -- for the most part. For months, pundits and pollsters debated whether public surveys were capturing accurate snapshots of the coming electorate, with conservatives in many cases alleging that polls were sampling too many Democrats and providing an artificial boost to Democratic candidates.
Those critics were wrong, as Tuesday night showed, and the polls were correct: President Obama did have that advantage, and it has propelled him to a second term. But the election also showed the polling industry is still facing increasing challenges related to how the various polls are conducted. The demographics of the country are changing, and the way in which Americans communicate with one another is changing even faster; both of these movements are significant threats to the future of telephone polling, whether conducted by live interviewers or automated computers.
-- Republicans were stunned by Obama's decisive victory, but the party performed even worse at the Senate level. In five Senate races, the GOP nominee performed at least nine points worse than Mitt Romney (Missouri, Indiana, Montana, Maine, North Dakota). Of the four who overperformed Romney, all were in solidly-Democratic states and none were victorious. And brand-name Republicans like Tommy Thompson and George Allen weren't able to pick off any cross-over support despite their records as ex-governors.
At the beginning of the year, if a pundit suggested Democrats would gain Senate seats, they'd have been seen as delusional. Gaining two was the equivalent of an inside straight in poker -- and possible in part because of the weak GOP Senate recruiting class.
-- If there's a silver lining for Republicans, it's this: They have a deep, diverse bench for 2016. Rising stars like Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Chris Christie and Bobby Jindal -- just to name a few -- could prove capable of modernizing the conservative movement and providing a much-needed face lift for a party that's performed miserably among key segments of the electorate: minorities and young people. Rubio, especially, has the political skill and personal appeal to help solve the GOP's vexing demographic dilemma.
Speaking of Rubio: He has made a series of savvy political chess moves since arriving in Washington, and his decision to decline the NRSC chairmanship is the latest example. The freshman senator already has enough on his plate: a young family to attend to, an underdeveloped PAC to nurture, and a key role to play in his party's imminent reformation on the immigration issue. Oh, he's also got a schedule to keep clear -- Iowa has already come calling (he'll travel there later this month), and New Hampshire won't be far behind.
-- The majority of Senate nominees who won Tuesday won a higher percentage of the vote in their races than their party's ticket mate did in the presidential race. For Joe Manchin, Heidi Heitkamp and Jon Tester, it was about survival: how else could they win states Obama was destined to lose? But for freshmen and potential 2016ers Amy Klobuchar and Kirsten Gillibrand, it was about running up the score to make a statement in otherwise safe seats against little-known opponents. Both Gillibrand and Klobuchar received more than 300,000 more votes than Obama.
-- Gillibrand's numbers stick out the most though. She ran up the score by an even greater margin than Hillary Clinton did in 2006 against a sacrificial GOP lamb by blanketing the expensive airwaves with positive TV ads, spending over $9 million in the third quarter reporting period alone. She also cuts checks worth thousands to dollars to individual women candidates across the country, many of whom won.
While New York Republicans and Democrats alike routinely dismiss her as a lightweight in the state's hierarchy compared to Clinton, Sen. Chuck Schumer, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, they should take note that the 45-year-old prodigious fundraiser now has capital to burn, favors to cash and six years to pad her warchest. Even if she doesn't run for president in four years, the GOP's inability to recruit a serious challenger to her in three-straight election cycles and her own relentless push has made her a serious player on the national scene.
-- For all the talk of nationalized races, this cycle proved that flawed candidates -- even in tightly contested states -- can't simply tie themselves to the top of the ticket and expect to be competitive. Reps. Shelley Berkley
and Connie Mack
, and former Rep. Pete Hoekstra
each saw a 16-17 point dropoff from their top-ticket counterpart. Ethics-plagued Shelley Berkley
lost a close race in Nevada, a state won by Obama, and Connie Mack
never came close in Florida, where the presidential contest came down to the wire. In Michigan, where Romney made a late push and lost by single digits, Pete Hoekstra
lost by a 20-point margin.
-- After most polls showed GOP Rep. Todd Akin
within single digits of Sen. Claire McCaskill
, D-Mo., through the general election, McCaskill stomped Akin Tuesday night, carrying almost 55 percent of the vote. The only region Akin solidly carried was southwest Missouri, a Republican holdout that falls into his conservative, evangelical base. Going into the cycle, McCaskill was one of the weakest Democratic incumbents. But in a state that Romney won handily, Akin's self-inflicted damage allowed McCaskill to increase her percent lead from 2006, gaining large swaths of previously Republican counties with her appeal to moderate and split-ticket voters. Akin continuously tried to tie McCaskill to Obama, but a way to tell how badly Akin's comments hurt him? Akin got roughly 5 percent less of the statewide vote than Obama.
-- Neutral observers and a look at Arizona voting history suggest that Rep. Ron Barber
, D-Ariz., will win his first full term in the House, though he trailed Republican Martha McSally
on election night and for a few days after. Special election winners almost never struggle in generals so soon afterward, and it's a testament to the political skill and appeal of McSally -- the first female combat pilot in Air Force history -- that Barber is struggling. But it's also an indictment of the Arizona Republican Party and special election nominee Jesse Kelly
, who lost to Barber by seven points in June. If the district's Republicans had showed any interest in electability instead of destructive intra-party wars in 2010 or the special election, the seat might already be in GOP hands. Now, McSally has made a very strong showing, but she may have gotten her chance just a hair too late to take advantage of it.
-- With big personalities on the ballot across the country this year, New Englanders seem to have put issues over candidates, completely shutting out even moderate Republicans. They pinched their noses and looked the other way to hold on to two House seats threatened by scandal (here's looking at you David Cicilline
and John Tierney
). And while the possibility of electing an openly gay representative may have appealed to some Massachusetts 6th District progressives, it seems Richard Tisei
's party affiliation couldn't be overcome.
-- Republicans didn't win the White House and lost seats in both the House and Senate, but they have at least one major victory to point to, however small. The GOP picked up a gubernatorial seat in North Carolina on Tuesday and will install the state's first Republican governor since 1988 next year. One seat is hardly much to crow about (especially considering their missed opportunities in Washington, Montana and New Hampshire) -- but North Carolina gives the GOP control over 30 of the country's gubernatorial mansions, more than at any time since the late '90s.
-- Sen. Scott Brown
, R-Mass., lost the most closely-watched Senate battle of the year to Elizabeth Warren
-- but some read into
his concession speech line "defeat is only temporary." Keep an eye on Brown -- he's still young and may find an opportunity if Obama nominates Sen. John Kerry
, D-Mass., as secretary of state, or in the 2014 open gubernatorial race.
-- The next Congress may not appear much different when looking at what party is in control, but the demographics have certainly changed. The 113th Congress will tout the largest number of women ever - 20 women will be in the U.S. Senate, and at least 77 women will represent U.S. House districts. Five states elected women to the U.S. Senate for the first time. White men will be the minority among House Democrats - another first. Congress is looking more racially diverse among Democrats, too, with 43 African Americans, 27 Hispanics and 10 Asian Americans representing congressional districts. Lastly, five 2013 Democrat House members are openly gay.
-- With Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
up for reelection in 2014, Kentucky Democrats are already mulling over Gov. Steve Beshear
and Rep. Ben Chandler
, who just lost his reelection bid, as possible challengers. But this week, Rep. John Yarmuth
threw another option into the ring: Actress Ashley Judd
, a Kentucky native -- and Judd didn't rule out a run. She would certainly be a high-profile candidate, with statewide popularity and fundraising capabilities. But her vocal mountaintop removal opposition and support for Obama could make a run difficult.