For Republicans to maintain a strong majority in the House, they knew they had to steal away more Democratic seats in the South. It won’t be a complete sweep, but they accomplished that mission.
Most of the gains were unsurprising. In fact, Republicans knew that the only reason they wouldn’t be able to poach more seats was because there were so few left to pick up. In 2010, the GOP won 17 seats in the old Confederate states. Republicans may not have had quite the wave this time, but they had another ace in the hole for 2012: the new congressional map in North Carolina.
Drawn by the GOP Legislature in 2011, the map was so Republican-friendly that the GOP easily picked off Rep. Larry Kissell and snatched the seats vacated by retiring Reps. Heath Shuler and Brad Miller. Had Shuler sought reelection, he might have held on but the Democrat who ran in his stead—Shuler’s former chief of staff Hayden Rogers—had no real chance of winning the 11th District once the liberal areas around Ashville were axed. Miller had so little chance of holding his seat that he even toyed with running in a primary against his Democratic neighbor, Rep. David Price. The GOP also scored easy pickups after Reps. Mike Ross of Arkansas and Dan Boren of Oklahoma retired, leaving GOP-leaning seats vulnerable.
Whether Republicans can claim a complete victory in North Carolina, however, still remains to be seen. The real trophy for Republicans in the Tar Heel State is the toss-up 7th District belonging to Rep. Mike McIntyre— a strong Republican district on paper. But McIntyre is a conservative Blue Dog Democrat with a big focus on military issues who has coasted to reelection each year since first coming to Washington in 1997.
This campaign he struck such a conservative tone that one Republican strategist was prompted to joke that if McIntyre held on, he could run for chairman of the Republican Study Committee. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, McIntyre leads his Republican opponent, state Sen. David Rouzer, by fewer than 400 votes.
Democrats were able to find a surefire silver lining in the South in the victory of Rep. John Barrow of Georgia. Barrow is the last remaining white Democrat in the Deep South, but voters can be forgiven if they don't know his party affiliation.
A newly drawn map made Barrow’s already red district redder, so instead of running as a typical Democrat, Barrow basically ran as an independent. “I'm John Barrow. Some people like me; some people don't,” he said in one of his television ads. “Kemp Jones collects guns. He likes my A-rating with the NRA. Democrats in Washington don't. Jimmy Johnson likes that I voted against the plan to privatize Medicare. Republicans in Washington don't.”
The strategy was effective enough to fend off former state legislator and third-generation Georgian farmer Lee Anderson.
But while Democrats could take solace in Barrow's victory, they were less lucky in their toss-up race in Kentucky, where Republicans picked up a big win when Rep. Ben Chandler lost his bid for reelection in a rematch with lawyer Andy Barr in the Bluegrass State’s 6th District.
Chandler managed to defeat Barr in 2010 by just 647 votes, but this year Republicans successfully tied the Democrat to President Obama and painted him as being against coal, putting Chandler on the wrong side of a local issue.
Democrats are celebrating the reelection of Obama and having successfully maintained their Senate majority, demonstrating a major turnaround from their demoralizing 2010 midterm defeats. But the South remains even more firmly in Republican control.