While the dust settles from the 2014 shellacking Democrats received several things stand out. Some of them are surprising, others not so much. This is by far not an exhaustive list, but to me it signifies the six most interesting things to have come out of this election cycle.
1. The polls were biased towards Democrats: Coming into election night Democrats had a solid lead in Virginia and a small lead in North Carolina. Greg Orman led in Kansas and numerous gubernatorial polls showed Dems ahead in blue states and GOP Governors in swing states trailing. Last night those polls were proven to be badly off. It is hard to count the number of races where the polls were off. In Arkansas, the RCP average of polls had Cotton up 7%, he won by 17%. In IA, Ernst led by 2.3% and she won by an astounding 8.5%. In CO, Gardner led by 2.5% and he won by 4.2%. The list goes on further. In KS, Roberts trailed Orman by .8% and he won by 10.7%. In Georgia, Perdue led by 3% in the polls and he won by 7% and avoided a runoff with 53%. The polls were off by at least 3% in North Carolina and though polling was sparse in Virginia, Ed Gillespie only trails Mark Warner by .6% compared to Warner leading double digits in the polls. In Governors races in Wisconsin, Maine, Florida and Michigan the polls were off by 2-5%. In blue states in Maryland, Illinois and Massachusetts the GOP ran ahead of polling margins. All this begs the question why the polls were off?
Democrats in the run-up to the election claimed the polls were biased against them. But this time the polls badly underestimated GOP strength. Perhaps pollsters should wonder after three consecutive elections if they need to wholesale re-examine their profession.
2. The vaunted Democratic ground game failed: Consider some numbers for me. Obama won IA in 2012 by 6%. He won CO by 5%. He carried Virginia by 4%. Yet, in these purple states the GOP candidate won by 8.5% (IA), 4.2% (CO), and the GOP candidate trails by .6% in Virginia. In red states that featured competitive Senate races Democrats touted their ground game, arguing it would give Kay Hagan, Mark Pryor, Michelle Nunn and Mary Landrieu a huge advantage. Instead, Pryor lost by over 15%, Landrieu barely garnered 42% (run-off on Dec. 6th), Nunn notched only 44% and Hagan could not get above 47.2%. The ground game the Democrats had boasted so much about in 2008, in CO and NV Senate races in 10, the Presidential race in 012, failed miserably. Which for 2016 begs the question, did the GOP catch up or was the toxic environment simply to much for national Democrats?
3. How the GOP Did with Minorities: Taking a gander at the exit polls it is not surprising to see the GOP did well with men, struggled with women and dominated among Independents. It is surprising to see the GOP make dramatic improvements with all minorities who promise to control future elections. Republicans dramatically improved their 2012 showing among Hispanics (35%), blacks (10%) and perhaps most importantly, Asians (49%). The exit polls even show they won American Indians (52%). N0w, one can argue these minorities were more conservative than those that showed in 2012. Perhaps so. But the GOP’s improvement among these groups is a significant win for the party heading into 2016. I will not focus on specific state exit polls but I will give shout outs to Nathan Deal in Georgia who won 47% of the Hispanic vote, Greg Abbott in Texas who won 44% of the Hispanic vote and John Kasich in Ohio who won 22% of the black vote.
4. How the Governorships Swung: The sheer number of Governorships the GOP is set to assume in 2015 is no less than amazing. Heading into the night many analysts expected the GOP to lose 1-3 seats and some crucial 2016 states. But, with many of the races called the party held virtually every big state and picked up some blue states to boot. In Wisconsin, Scott Walker trounced Mary Burke. In Michigan, Rick Snyder cruised to reelection. In Florida and Maine, both races many analysts expected the GOP to lose, Rick Scott and Paul LePage won. Sam Brownback, an endangered incumbent in Kansas that was widely expected to lose, won with over 50% of the vote. Then we get to races the GOP won. In Maryland, Larry Hogan pulled off a surprising victory. Charlie Baker in Massachusetts gave Marth Coakley her second major defeat in less than four years. Even in deep blue Illinois, Bruce Rauner proved a winner over Pat Quinn. The GOP also easily held open seats in Nebraska and Arizona. Connecticut and Alaska are still outstanding.
While Democrats hold the edge in both some analysis indicates the races have yet to be called because some GOP heavy precincts have not reported their ballots. One bright spot for Democrats is they did hold the Colorado governorship. The GOP did lose Pennsylvania (as expected) and they could very well lose Alaska. But regardless, the GOP is alive and well at the state level. I will have more on state legislative turnover when more numbers come out.
5. Where Have All the Conservative Democrats Gone: The GOP wave was so strong this cycle they not only won in conservative districts but also liberal ones. But it is the conservative Democrats who lost that are notable and indicate the Democratic Caucus in the House will move inexorably to the left. Nick Rahall, a 19 term West Virginia Congressman lost his bid for reelection. With Capito’s victory in the Senate, Senator Joe Manchin is the lone Democrat in the state’s delegation. In Georgia, John Barrow lost his bid for reelection. Outside of TX and Florida in the South the Democrats do not have a single white Congressman representing a majority white district. Democrats also saw notable moderates and liberals lose. Democrats might take solace in the fact Gwen Graham beat Steve Southerland in the conservative FL-2 and Steve Ashford leads Lee Terry in NB-2. Collin Peterson won reelection in a district Mitt Romney won by 10% in 2012. But by and large the Democratic Caucus will lose more moderates and conservatives than it gained. With several close races in CA and AZ pending, those losses could become even deeper.
6. Idaho Democrats Have Another Rough Night: Democrats are used to having rough nights. But this time might be different. Many Democrats felt AJ Balukoff was the guy to topple Otter. Holli Woodings for Secretary of State and Jana Jones for Superintendent of Education were top-notch candidates. But in the end it does not look like Democrats will hold a single statewide constitutional office for the next four years. With all precincts reporting Otter had 54%, Denney had 56% and Ybarra had 50.7%. Democrats still hold out hope Jones can come from behind with absentee and provisional ballots (she has yet to concede) but the odds are long.
At the legislative level Democrats are in slightly better shape. They look likely to hold all their metro Boise seats and add a seat or two in the House with narrow wins in district 5 and 6 house races (both to close to call). Meanwhile, Republicans have few pick-up opportunities unless remaining ballots go decisively in their favor. One saving grace for Democrats was their margin in Ada County. They easily held their legislative seats and Balukoff, Jones and Wooding all took Ada County.
Despite winning Ada County Democrats were trounced in the state. Are Democrats simply to toxic to ever win in Idaho for a generation? I am starting to suspect so.