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It Was Definitively a Wave

Senator-elect Cotton speaks with New Jersey Gov. Christie during a rally in Arkansas. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Senator-elect Cotton speaks with New Jersey Gov. Christie during a rally in Arkansas. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A week before the election, Stu waded into the discussion about what constitutes an electoral wave. One of his main points: “I know it when I see it.”  

Well, we saw it on Tuesday.  

Republicans gained more House and Senate seats than the most likely pre-election projections. But it was the margins in individual races that were so stunning.  

For political junkies, handicappers, and reporters, Election Day is the Super Bowl. And as the midterm elections unfolded, it started to feel like the last big game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos. What was billed as a slugfest between two top teams coming into the night ended up being a rout. Competitive Senate races in Colorado, Iowa, and Kansas that were so supposed to be squeakers ended up being comfortable GOP victories. A couple competitive House seats in New York looked like toss-ups before Nov. 4, but Republicans won them by double-digits.  

And similar to the Super Bowl, the totality of the GOP victory was so significant that there was a question of whether Democrats would get shut out. At least Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire survived, and Democrats picked off wounded GOP Reps. Steve Southerland of Florida and Lee Terry of Nebraska, although the latter race is not official yet. But nothing came easy for Democrats.  

The dynamic of the night changed so dramatically that the focus in the House shifted quickly from modest GOP gains to historic, and reporters and analysts began examining every House race in the country in search of unexpected Democratic Members still left on the battlefield trying to squeak out surprisingly close races. It’s an extraordinary night for Republicans when Democratic Reps. John Delaney of Maryland Louise M. Slaughter of New York suddenly became topics and races of interest.  

It will be easy for Democrats to pin the losses on President Barack Obama and the White House, as evidenced by almost-former Majority Leader Harry Reid’s chief of staff’s comments to The Washington Post . While the president certainly overshadowed the entire cycle, congressional Democrats have some serious, operational issues to address. The party’s polling failed to identify the type of election and electorate that was on the horizon. And the party’s vaunted get-out-the-vote operation did not materialize to save the day.  

Democrats have dug themselves into a considerable hole. Republicans would have to completely self-destruct in the House to put that chamber into play anytime soon. And heavy Senate losses this year means a Democratic takeover in 2016 is in more doubt, even though Republicans will be on the defensive because of the map.  

In the days and weeks to come, we look forward to taking you behind the scenes of some of the key races to find out what really happened. But it’s important to remember that what members of each party think happened in the election (sometimes contrary to what actually happened) will guide their future legislative and campaign strategies into the next congress and election cycle.  

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