US 2010: A first look

As most of the world knows, the United States held key midterm elections on Tuesday, November 2. The entire House of Representatives, 37% of the Senate, most Governors and state legislatures were up, in addition to a bunch of local races and referendums of various types all across the nation. This is, of course, the first major test for the Democrats since Barack Obama’s 2008 win. I’ll save you the usual blabber about the significance of this and how it came to be, and go straight to what happened and why it happened.

Right now, most votes are counted. However, results in some races are uncertain and a few remain too close to call. There’ll be a few recounts. In addition, at the moment I’m writing this, a number of states (especially Washington, which is entirely mail-in voting) have not counted all votes. Thankfully, people who are good at math have extrapolated the likely final results by looking at which areas are yet to come in.

On a final note, because I’m a contrarian and because of a site I go to, I use red for Democrats and blue for Republicans. Unlike almost every other media source, although the red=D and blue=R makes more sense in a global context and can be more easily understood by most foreigners, where blue is conservatism and red is some sort of centre-left.

We begin with the Senate, where the Democrats (allied with 2 Independents) held 59 seats against 41 for the Republicans. The Republicans needed a gain of 10 seats to gain control (a 50-50 tie would be broken by the Vice President, Joe Biden). As of now, it seems like in the end the Democrats will have 53 seats against 47 for the Republicans (including Lisa Murkowski). Even if Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Ben Nelson (D-NE) were to switch sides to support the Republicans, the Democrats would still hold a 51-49 edge.

Senate

Alabama (R hold): No surprise in Alabama with a landslide reelection for incumbent Republican Senator Richard Shelby, who’s been around since 1987 (he became a Republican in 1994 following the midterms that year). He took 65.3% of the vote to 34.7% for attorney William Barnes, the Democrats’ sacrificial lamb.

Alaska (Ind R hold): The senate contest in Alaska this year turned out to be more interesting than anyone had ever predicted. First, most believed incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski, in office since her father appointed her in 2002, would cruise to win both the primaries against Joe Miller, her Palin-backed Tea Party opponent. She didn’t – he won the primary with 50.9% against 49.1% for her. Second, most people then assumed that she would bow out and Miller would win over the Democrats’ Scott McAdams, the amiable but inexperienced Sitka mayor. She didn’t allow that to happen, instead opting to run for reelection as a write-in candidate, where voters who wished to vote for her would need to write her name in on the ballot. Given that her name isn’t very easy to spell when you don’t know her well, the Secretary of State allowed some leeway and allowed various forms of her name as acceptable. Still, write-ins haven’t won since Strom Thurmond won in SC back in 1954. Miller was originally favoured, but stumbled after a series of missteps on the campaign trail (notably an altercation with journalists) and reports that he had received various forms of government largesse. Perhaps his general arrogance, including a Twitter post noting that he was buying the drapes for his Senate office in DC, didn’t help. This was all surprising after a very well orchestrated primary campaign. On results so far, write-ins have 41% of the vote against 34.3% for Joe Miller and 23.6% for Scott McAdams. It remains to be seen how many of the 81,876 write-in votes were cast for Murkowski and how many will be valid, but with such a lead, it seems that Murkowski has won reelection as a write-in candidate. There will still be a lot of issues of various types, a possible recount in court and shenanigans that could take up to a month. If she wins, she will caucus with the Republicans, given that she did not change her party registration at any point.

Arizona (R hold): After surviving a primary challenge to his right by moving to the right, John McCain has won a predictably easy reelection over Democratic opponent Rodney Glassman, who was still McCain’s first half-serious opponent in a long time. McCain was held under 60% for the first time since 1992. He still took 59.2% against 34.7% for Glassman. Libertarian candidate David Nolan took 4.7%, possibly a lot coming from the few Republicans who still find McCain too liberal, despite his recent overhaul and shift to the right.

Arkansas (R gain from D): Senator Blanche Lincoln, a moderate Democrat in office since 1998, went down badly, taking one of the lowest percentage of the vote for an incumbent running for reelection. Unlike her colleague and fellow moderate Democrat Mark Pryor, Blanche Lincoln has put herself way too much in the spotlight and has, in the process, earned the ire of both the right and left. Her reluctant backing of ‘Obamacare’ and her conservative position on unions and climate change won her a tough primary challenge by union-backed LG Bill Hatler, whom she surprisingly and narrowly defeated. Her late backing of ‘Obamacare’ after making herself one of the key votes in the Senate won her the opposition of most conservatives. She had little chance against Rep. John Boozman, an amiable typical small-town southerner, who ran a low-key and rather moderate campaign. Boozman took 58% against Lincoln’s 36.9%. She managed to do worse than Obama had done in the state in 2008. As we’ll see later, this election was bad for typically dominant Arkansas Democrats.

California (D hold): Barbara Boxer, one of the Senate’s liberal icons, was facing a close race against former HP executive Carly Fiorina, who dumped a lot of her money into the race. Fiorina ran to the right, perhaps too much to the right for California, by taking a conservative pro-life and pro-oil drilling line in this race. She won by a little less than 10 points, taking 51.9% against 42.6% for Fiorina.

Colorado (D hold): In this traditionally ‘purple’ swing state, Democrats were facing big odds to win in Colorado. Firstly, their incumbent, Michael Bennet was appointed to this seat last year when the incumbent, Ken Salazar, joined cabinet. He had never run for office before, and only narrowly won a tough primary late this summer. He was, however, helped by the Republicans nominating Ken Buck, a district attorney and Tea Party-backed candidate with a penchant for controversial, though not insane (unlike other Tea Partiers) statements. Buck had a narrow lead in most polls, and most thought he’d win despite Bennet’s (somewhat unusual for a swing state) tough attacks on him for his conservative positions on abortion, gay rights and a small scandal where Buck didn’t prosecute a rape case. Surprisingly, it seems to have worked, since right now – with 98% reporting – he has 47.7% to Buck’s 46.8%. With the remaining votes coming from Boulder – a liberal stronghold, and Arapahoe – a Denver suburban county which is getting ‘bluer’, Bennet is projected to win this, and most networks should call it soon. There was a big gender gap here, with women backing Bennet 55-39, but men giving him only 43% to Buck’s 53%. Republicans have often use social wedge issues as a tool to maximize conservative base turnout (notably in 2004), but Democrats have shied away from it in the past. Could this mean that the usage of social issues as wedge issues is not reserved to Republicans?

Connecticut (D hold): Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has won the country’s most expensive and one of the most vitriolic races with 55.1% against 43.3% for former WWE executive Linda McMahon. McMahon had dumped tons of her own money into this race, but faced obstacles. Blumenthal, first thought to be unbeatable when he first jumped in following Sen. Chris Dodd’s retirement, also faced obstacles. Most notably, a scandal about remarks he made insinuating his service in Vietnam, when in fact he didn’t serve in Vietnam.

Delaware – Special (D hold): The special election for VP Joe Biden’s old seat was thought to be in the bag for Republicans – and their presumptive nominee Mike Castle, the state’s long time moderate Republican representative. That was until world-famous Tea Party rival Christine O’Donnell upset him in one of this season’s best primaries and practically handed the race to Democrat Chris Coons, originally the sacrificial lamb against Castle. O’Donnell, who was going to lose anyway to Coons due to her extreme positions in this blue state, further destroyed herself when hilarious reports of her “dabbling with witchcraft” in her young adulthood came out or when she explained that she would never lie about anything, including to Hitler about hiding Jews in her house during the Holocaust. She did, however, come up with one of the best all-time political ads:

She lost, taking 40% against 56.6% for Chris Coons, the “bearded Marxist”. She did, however, win two counties this time, so she won’t need to lie about that in her next inevitable run for office or her inevitable new show on talk radio or FOX News.

Florida (R hold): In the end, it wasn’t remotely close. In this once-hot race, the Tea Party-backed Marco Rubio, a young, charismatic and motivating candidate, won easily. He took 48.9% with nearly all votes counted, far ahead of Gov. Charlie Christ, the former moderate Republican who ran as an Independent after polls showed that he was on track to lose the GOP primary in a landslide to Rubio. He took only 29.7% of the vote. Democrat Kendrick Meek, a retiring representative, took third with 20.1%. Thus, even if Meek had dropped out in Crist’s favour like Crist lobbied him to do, Rubio would still have won although perhaps by a narrower margin. Crist won in four counties: Leon (Tallahassee), Pinellas (St. Petersburg), Broward and Palm Beach. A Cuban-American, Rubio won the Latino vote with around 55% of the vote, and won in Miami-Dade County. Meek won only one county, the black-majority northern Gadsen County.

Georgia (R hold): Senator Johnny Isakson cruised to a landslide reelection win, taking 58.1% of the vote against Michael Thurmond, the state labor commissioner, who took 39.2%. A Libertarian took 2.7% of the vote.

Hawaii (D hold): In office since 1963, the Senate’s longest-serving member, Daniel Inouye cruised to a massive win over his Republican opponent, Cam Cavasso. He took 74.8% of the vote against 21.6% for Cavasso. It seems as if Rasmussen’s shock poll giving Inouye a 13-point edge turned out to be one of the worst polls in American history.

Idaho (R hold): In 2004, Mike Crapo’s only opponent(s) were write-ins. This year, the Democrats found someone named Tom Sullivan to run against him. Crapo won 71.1% of the vote against 25% for Sullivan. In the process, he even took Blaine County, the ski-resort Democratic stronghold.

Illinois – Special (R gain from D): In this special election to President Obama’s seat, the Republican Mark Kirk, a moderate GOP representative, took the seat in a close race against Alexi Giannoulias, the state treasurer who is also a former banker (something which isn’t popular) and was involved in some shady business. Kirk was lucky that Illinois holds its primaries very early, because he could have been teabagged. He also faced issues of his own: he too made comments about his alleged service in Vietnam which turned out to be false. Kirk won 48.2% against 46.3% for Giannoulias. Green candidate LeAlan M. Jones won 3.2%, not nearly as well as some expected. Giannoulias led for most of the night, but late counting in Chicago suburbs won the night for Kirk. Giannoulias won only three counties – one of which, Cook, is by far the most populous county in the state and the Democrats’ traditional base. He took 64% there, but lost badly in the suburbs and downstate.

Indiana (R gain from D): This seat was held by retiring Democratic Senator Evan Bayh, whose surprise retirement won him the hatred of many liberal Democrats. Leaving the party to find a candidate to replace him, Bayh also took a lot of money with him in preparation for a likely 2012 gubernatorial run. It might not make much sense in a year like this, but Republican nominee and former Senator (and eternal lobbyist and ‘DC insider’) Dan Coats faced no trouble. He won 56.4% of the vote against 38.1% for Rep. Brad Ellsworth, who managed to get the NRA’s endorsement. Rebecca Sink-Burris, a Libertarian, took a strong 5.4%, reflecting some isolated conservative resentment of lobbyist and DC insider Dan Coats, who nonetheless had Tea Party backing. Ellsworth performed well in his southwestern Indiana district, but did poorly in the northeastern and north-central parts of the state which had been crucial in Obama’s narrow win in this ‘red state’.

Iowa (R hold): In office since 1981, Chuck Grassley, everybody’s favourite Twitter user, won a landslide reelection. He took 64.5% against 33.2% for Roxanne Conlin, the Democrat. She managed to eek out one county, which is unusual for Grassley’s Democratic opponents. She won Johnson County, which includes the University of Iowa.

Kansas (R hold): Rep. Jerry Moran took retiring Sen. Sam Brownback’s seat in a landslide, winning 70.3% of the vote against 26.2% for Lisa Johnston, the Democrat. He took nearly 90% of the vote in his old district, the big first (which covers most of western Kansas), but lost in two counties: Wyandotte (Kansas City) and Douglas (Lawrence, a college town).

Kentucky (R hold): Tea Party hero and ophthalmologist Rand Paul easily won retiring Sen. Jim Bunning’s seat, with 55.8% of the vote against 44.2% for AG Jack Conway, his Democratic opponent. Democrats had thought Conway, who closed the gaps in the final weeks, could eek out a win, but Conway’s Aqua Buddha ad, attacking Paul’s college religious views, backfired badly.

Conway only narrowly won in Lexington (Fayette County) and didn’t do spectacularly well in the Democratic mine-field counties of eastern Kentucky, where he had done very badly in the primary against his Blue Dog opponent, Dan Mongiardo.

Louisiana (R hold): Despite a prostitution scandal, Republican incumbent David Vitter’s seat was never in jeopardy. He won 56.6% of the vote against 37.7% for Rep. Charlie Melançon, whose very conservative campaign didn’t work out too well. He ended up doing worse than Obama had done here in 2008, underperforming especially badly in black counties though doing slightly better in the old Cajun counties in the south, parts of which are in his old district.

Maryland (D hold): In office since 1987, Sen. Barbara Mikulski was easily reelected with 61.8% against 36.3% for her Republican opponent, Eric Wargotz.

Missouri (R hold): Rep. Roy Blunt easily won this contest to replace retiring Sen. Kit Bond, a race which some Democrats hoped would be competitive thanks to their strong candidate in Sec. of State Robin Carnahan, given that the Carnahan name is popular in the state. She couldn’t stop the wave, and took only 40.6% against 54.3% for Blunt. She won only three counties, one which contains St. Louis, another which contains its inner suburbs and the other which contains Kansas City. Blunt did very well in his old district, in the Ozarks.

Nevada (D hold): Senate majority leader Harry Reid, in office since 1987, was extremely vulnerable in this cycle. His close association with Obama and the unpopular Congress made him unpopular. He was helped when Republicans nominated Sharron Angle, a Tea Partier with a history of controversial statements and positions, over two more moderate candidates. Angle made immigration a big issue, pressing her support of Arizona’s immigration law and making known her tough position on illegal immigration. She led in most of the final polls by a small margin, but Reid, who had lots of money and a formidable GOTV machine – especially among Latinos who didn’t like Angle’s immigration position at all – came back from the dead. He won 50.2% against 44.6% for Angle, a comfortable win. Latinos, 15% of voters, went to him 68-30 (a shift of only 2% to the GOP from 2004, when Reid had won 61-35). The state’s unique NOTA option took 2.2% and Scott Ashjian, the shady “Tea Party of Nevada” candidate took only 0.8%. Many thought Ashjian had been a Democratic plant to divide the conservative vote. Reid won not only in Clark County (Las Vegas) but also in Mineral and Washoe (Reno) counties.

New Hampshire (R hold): Former AG Kelly Ayotte won a landslide in a race to succeed retiring Sen. Judd Gregg. She even broke 60%, taking 60.2% against a mere 36.7% for growingly unpopular Rep. Paul Hodes. She won in all counties, did especially well in Boston suburbia and was the first example of the Republican wave which touched New Hampshire big on Tuesday.

New York (D hold): High-ranking Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer won an easy reelection with 65.4% against 33% for Republican Jay Townsend. However, with Reid winning, he probably won’t get to be Senate Majority Leader just now.

New York – Special (D hold): Incumbent – appointed – Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand was easily reelected to Hillary Clinton’s old Senate seat. Originally thought to be a weak incumbent with little base, she became stronger and the NY GOP did what it does best in statewide races: shoot itself in the foot. Its top candidates – fmr. Gov. Pataki and fmr. NYC mayor Giuliani didn’t run. She won 62% against 35.8% for Republican opponent Joseph DioGuardi.

North Carolina (R hold): Sen. Richard Burr has been reelected to a second term, and has broken this seat’s curse – it hasn’t had a two-term member since 1967. Burr won rather easily, taking 55% against 42.9% for his Democratic opponent Elaine Marshall.

North Dakota (R gain from D): Extremely popular Gov. John Hoeven, a Republican, won a crushing landslide in a race to succeed retiring Democratic incumbent Byron Dorgan, who retired after nearly 20 years in office. Hoeven, a moderate Republican – in fact, he’s a former Democrat – is popular thanks to the state’s economic success and low unemployment (lowest in the nation, I think). In an unequal contest, he won 76.2% of the vote against 22.2% for Tracy Potter, the random person which felt like running for Senate as a Democrat. Hoeven even won the state’s Indian-majority rez counties.

Ohio (R gain): It’s hard to believe that the race to succeed retiring Republican Sen. George Voinovich was once competitive. In the end, and thanks in part to a huge money advantage, former rep. and US trade representative under Bush Rob Portman easily won, with 57.3% against a paltry 39% for Democratic LG Lee Fisher. In a contest between a big free-trader like Portman, an icon of the Bush era’s economic policies; and a protectionist like Fisher, it seems as if the former prevailed over the latter. A good indicator of the national mood. Fisher got demolished in the western part of the state and did poorly in places like Cleveland, Akron, Columbus, Dayton and Toledo though he did win the Youngstown era by a strong margin.

Oklahoma (R hold): Tom Coburn was reelected to a second term with a huge majority, raking up 70.5% of the vote against 26.1% for Democrat Jim Rogers. He won every county, and took over 60% in all of them.

Oregon (D hold): Democratic incumbent Ron Wyden, a popular senator and health care expert in office since 1996, was reelected in one of the Democrats’ easiest wins. He took 57.2% of the vote against 39.5% for his Republican opponent, Jim Huffman.

Pennsylvania (R gain from D): Former GOP Rep. Pat Toomey took 51% of the vote against 49% for Rep. Joe Sestak, his Democratic opponent. Joe Sestak, the former admiral and congressman since 2006, defeated floor-crossing incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter in a primary, but struggled for most of the campaign against Toomey. A good candidate, Sestak fought back and closed the gap to low single digits in the final weeks or so. Despite leading for a good part of the night thanks in part to good turnout and good numbers out of Philadelphia, in the end Toomey prevailed because Sestak performed weakly in Philly’s suburbs, where both candidates hail from. Despite losing narrowly statewide, Sestak lost in the traditionally Democratic working-class steel areas east of Pittsburgh in the Allegheny region.

South Carolina (R hold): In this hilarious contest, incumbent Sen. Jim DeMint, one of the Senate’s Tea Party icons, won reelection with 62.4% of the vote against his bizarre and insane Democratic opponent, Alvin Greene, who took 28.2%. Green candidate Tom Clements took 9.6%. Alvin Greene, a black man who inexplicably won the primary against a much better opponent (Vic Rawls), got headlines when he was charged with obscenity (showing porn to an 18-year old college student) and when he proposed to boost the economy by producing action figures of himself. Greene, who lives with his parents and is generally bizarre, did rather well, likely due to the black vote still going heavily to him. The Green candidate, who emerged as the saner liberal candidate, did well, but didn’t manage to outpoll Greene as some had predicted.

South Dakota (R hold): Incumbent Sen. John Thune, in office since his 2004 win over Tom Daschle, was reelected unopposed. He is considered a likely contender for the presidency in 2012, which explains why he amassed so much money in his uncontested race.

Utah (R hold): Mike Lee, the Tea Party-backed candidate who emerged victorious of a primary which followed a state convention in which incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett was thrown out of the race, won easily, with 61.6% in a solidly red state. Democrat Sam Granato took 32.8%, while Constitution Party candidate Scott Bradley took 5.7% out of the blue. He won all but one county, Summit, a ski-resort region east of SLC.

Vermont (D hold): In office since 1974, incumbent Sen. Pat Leahy – the only Democratic Senator from Vermont in the state’s history – won an easy reelection with 64.4% of the vote against 30.9% for Republican Len Britton. He won in all counties, including Essex, a small and traditionally more conservative county in the east of the state.

Washington (D hold): With 88% reporting, Democratic incumbent Patty Murray holds 51.6% of the vote against 48.4% for her Republican opponent, Dino Rossi. Dino Rossi, who narrowly lost the 2004 gubernatorial contest (the Republicans’ equivalent of Florida 2000) after a recount, has already conceded defeat (for a third time since 2004).

West Virginia – Special (D hold): Extremely popular Gov. Joe Manchin toyed with the law to get a special election held in the state following the recent death of the seat’s long-time holder, former PPT Sen. Robert Byrd. Most had thought Manchin, who holds 70% approvals, would win easily, but in a state where Obama is extremely unpopular and where liberal policies are unpopular, that wasn’t the case. Even though his Republican opponent, Tea Party-backed John Raese, a wealthy businessmen who has more connections with Florida than with WV, was certainly not the best opponent, Obama’s unpopularity gave Manchin a tough run. He trailed in some polls, but came back roaring with attacks on Raese’s unpopular positions (abolishing the minimum wage) and his Florida connections to take a narrow lead. Perhaps one of this season’s most well-known ads from Manchin helped him a bit:

Manchin won 53.5% of the vote against 43.4% for John Raese, a surprisingly big win. Manchin campaigned as a conservative, shooting – literally – cap-and-trade (which is unpopular in WV, which is a top coal producer) and pledging to repeal the bad parts of ‘Obamacare’. He is likely to end up being another Ben Nelson, a conservative Democrat who’ll break with his party more than once every year.

Wisconsin (R gain from D): Russ Feingold, a well-known liberal Democratic Senator, was defeated by Republican businessman Ron Johnson in a heartbreak to many left-leaning Democrats. Johnson, one of Feingold’s toughest opponents in a reelection contest, won 51.9% of the vote against 47.1% for Feingold. Economic woes in the Upper Midwest contributed in large part to Feingold’s defeat.

House of Representatives

Republicans have taken the House, taking 60 seats from the Democrats thus far. They’ll certainly have 239, the Democrats will certainly have 186 seats. Here are my final projections, including 10 uncalled races, for the House:

Republicans 243 seats (+65)
Democrats 192 seats (-65)

This will make Republican minority leader John Boehner (R-OH) the new Speaker of the House, taking over from Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Boehner has been in office since 1991, and is not at all your Tea Party-style grassroots conservative activist. He’s far more on the establishment’s side, but he will have to deal with a Tea Party caucus which is at least 39 strong. He has promised not to let them down, but he will have a harder time satisfying most of their more radical demands, especially given that the Republicans will have little opportunity to pass some of their own legislation with a Senate and executive still dominated by Democrats. Furthermore, along with most establishment Republicans, Boehner is also quite experienced in the world of pork and lobbyist, something which may not play very well with the most hardcore of Tea Party folks.

According to the exit polls, it was the independents (obviously) as well as a largely white, suburban middle-class electorate which is struggling economically which gave the Republicans their major win. The suburban electorate, which had also given the Democrats their wins in 2006 and 2008, gave the GOP a 54-43 edge (in 1994, it was 57-43 for the Republicans). Rural voters also swung big to the Republicans.

Whites preferred the Republican Party 60 to 38. However, Hispanics as a whole likely swung below the national swing, giving the Democrats a 65-33 advantage, one which is much larger than the 56-44 edge they had given Democrats back in 2004 or the 61-39 advantage for Democrats back in 1994. Though there was talk of a major swing with Hispanics, it seems as if they didn’t swing as big as expected, likely the result of the Arizona immigration law and the Republicans’ move to the right on immigration.

Republicans won back a lot of suburban districts they had lost in 2006 or 2008, but the Democrats resisted in a few of these suburban districts, perhaps indicating that some suburban areas – like those in New England or Colorado – might have become more Democratic. Yet, Democrats in suburban districts such as John Hall (NY-19), Patrick Murphy (PA-8), John Adler (NJ-3), Mark Schauer (MI-7), Melissa Bean (IL-8), Harry Mitchell (AZ-5), Dina Titus (NV-3), Ron Klein (FL-22) and of course Alan Grayson (FL-8) have all lost. The latter of the list, Grayson, especially badly, probably because it really backfired to call his opponent a Taliban.

The Republicans, most notably, also cleaned up in a lot of generally white, rural Southern districts which Blue Dog Democrats held. There was a major shift in the South from Democrats to Republicans, and not only in House races. In Tennessee, Republicans gained three rural districts held by Democrats, one of which was through the crushing defeat by a full 21 points of Rep. Lincoln Davis in TN-4. In Mississippi, both Travis Childers (MS-1) and Gene Taylor (MS-4) lost. Bobby Bright, somewhat surprisingly, didn’t hold on in AL-2 against Martha Roby. Republicans also picked up two open seats in Arkansas, but didn’t unseat Mike Ross (AR-4). In Texas, Chet Edwards (TX-17) lost 62-37! In LA, MS and AL; all districts held by Democrats are black-majority. All in all, Blue Dog Democrats, especially those in the South, lost badly. The Blue Dog caucus will find itself much, much smaller come January 2011. Some of their big names outside the south, such as Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin (D-SD) and Walt Minnick (D-ID) lost, the latter of which was actually quite surprising.

A few Blue Dogs, some in the most conservative of places, held on. Jim Matheson (UT-2) and Dan Boren (OK-2) are notable for their survival. In North Carolina, only one Democrat (Bob Etheridge) lost and that’s largely because the map is a Democratic gerrymander.

Democrats gained three seats, none of which are surprising. In DE-AL, John Carney easily gained Mike Castle’s open seat over Republican Glen Urquhart; an O’Donnell-like candidate who thinks liberals are Nazis. In LA-2 (New Orleans), Republican Joseph Cao (who won only because the Democrat was a crook) was defeated 64.6-33.5. Finally, in HI-1, where Charles Djou won a special election this summer only because Democrats were divided, he lost 53-47 to Democrat Colleen Hanabusa.

Hit hard by unemployment and the economic crisis, the Rust Belt was ground zero of a major anti-Democrat swing. It carried Republicans into governors mansions and state legislatures, and also saw Republicans take control of a majority of House seats in PA, OH, IL, MI, IN and WI. Though helped by a map favourable to them, especially in Ohio and Illinois, Republicans threw out a lot of incumbents or took open seats. A lot of them in areas which have suffered a lot from the recession.

State-level races

Alabama (R hold): Robert Bentley, with 57.9%, will succeed term-limited Governor Bob Riley. He defeated Ag Commish Ron Sparks, who won 42.1%. While Sparks did well in a few areas outside the traditional Black Belt, it was far from enough. Most importantly, Republicans gained control of both chambers in the Alabama legislature for the first time since Reconstruction. In downballot races, Republicans swept all offices, and notably defeated incumbent Lt. Governor Jim Folsom Jr. (son of former Gov. “Big Jim” Folsom Sr.). All this is a signal of a final shift in the Deep South away from local (conservative) Democrats towards Republicans, already dominant at the presidential level for at least a decade.

Alaska (R hold): Governor Sean Parnell, who succeeded Sarah Palin in 2009, won reelection with 58.9% against 38.3% for Democrat Ethan Berkowitz. Perhaps the only surprise is that Parnell didn’t break 60%.

Arizona (R hold): Governor Jan Brewer, the former Secretary of State who became Governor when Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) joined Obama’s cabinet, won reelection with 54.9% of the vote. Originally a very weak incumbent who lacked base support after tax hikes, she became a conservative hero with her controversial immigration legislation. Democratic AG Terry Goddard trailed with 42% of the vote. In major ballot initiatives, voters approved with 55.3% an amendment which prevents ‘mandated health insurance’ (like ‘Obamacare’). Measure 203, which would legalize medical marijuana, lost narrowly, with 50.1% against.

Arkansas (D hold): Arkansas may be shifting towards the GOP, but Democratic Governor Mike Beebe won a landslide reelection and in the process won all counties and won the best result for a Democratic gubernatorial candidate in the country. He won 64.5% against 33.6% for Republican Jim Keet. However, downballot, Republicans won all three statewide positions they contested and apparently swept the seats they contested in the legislature. Yet, the AR GOP’s traditional incompetence and inability to find candidates (the Green Party is often better than that than the AR GOP) have allowed Democrats to hold the legislature and three statewide positions which were contested only by the Greens. Yet, with the House at D 55-45 for Democrats (down from D 72–28) and the Senate at D 22-13 (down from D 27-8); the Democratic control of Arkansas’ legislature is definitely endangered.

California (D gain from R): In a big win for Democrats, former Governor and incumbent AG Jerry Brown picked up California, with 53.5% of the vote. Massive spending, at almost $45 per vote, by former eBay CEO Meg Whitman didn’t win her much aside from 41.3%. These results reaffirm California’s status as a safe ‘blue’ state. Democrats, seemingly, with the AG race in doubt, have also swept downballot statewide race. Notably, San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom ousted incumbent (appointed) LG Abel Maldonado 50-39. In much-watched ballot measures, voters rejected Prop 19, which would legalize marijuana, with 53.8% against. Prop 23, which would suspend air pollution laws until unemployment drops was rejected with 61.1% against. Prop 20’s approval also ensures that California redistricting will be n0n-partisan. To make solving the state’s budget woes easier, the approval by 54.7% of voters of Prop 25 will make a simple majority, and not a two-thirds majority, required to pass the budget.

Colorado (D hold): In a much-watched gubernatorial contest, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper held on to retiring Gov. Bill Ritter’s seat, taking 50.7% of the vote and winning easily over former Rep. Tom Tancredo, known for his controversial far-right views on immigration. Tancredo was the Constitution Party candidate, and became the de-facto Republican as the actual Republican, Dan Maes, collapsed into irrelevance thanks to his general insanity and scandals. Tancredo won 36.8% of the vote, while Maes took 11.1%. That will still ensure that Republicans retain major party status in the state, because falling under 10% would mean they’d have become a minor party for the books. Republicans, however, took out the Democratic incumbent officeholders for SoS and Treasurer. Republicans also won control of the Colorado House. In ballot measures, one which would have defined a “person” as “beginning at conception” was soundly rejected, with 70.5% against. One measure which would have prevented mandated health insurance was defeated 53-47.

Connecticut (D gain from R): Florida 2000 all over again? So far, Democrat Dan Malloy holds an alleged lead over Republican Tom Foley, with 564,885 votes to the former (source: New York Times) and 557,123 votes to the latter. This count seems to include a weird situation in Bridgeport (a Democratic stronghold) where they ran out of ballots and extended voting, and where they’re still counting votes. The incompetence of the Secretary of State means this race is still lingering, but it seems increasingly likely that Malloy has picked up Republican Gov. Jodi Rell’s seat.

Florida (R gain from I): The gubernatorial contest was a close one, but in the end it was Republican Rick Scott, who, with 48.9% of the vote, won out. Despite his low favourable numbers, and despite the fact that a lot of his voters voted for him with reservations, he defeated former state CFO Alex Sink who won 47.7%. However, Republicans won’t get to gerrymander the congressional districts because a ballot measure to set “standards for Congressional redistricting” was approved with 62.9% of the vote.

Georgia (R hold): Former Rep. Nathan Deal, the surprise victor of the Republican primary over a Palin-backed Tea Party candidate, was easily elected Governor with 52.9% against 43.1% for former Gov. Roy Barnes, defeated in 2002 and seeking a political comeback this year. Some thought Barnes could get it, especially over a slightly corrupt person such as Deal, but the wave carried him through. Republicans also swept all downballot statewide offices.

Hawaii (D gain from R): Former Rep. Neil Abercrombie was easily elected Governor of Obama’s birth state with 58.2%, succeeding term-limited Republican Governor Linda Lingle. Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona took 41.1% of the vote. His easy win in the end, despite pollsters showing it surprisingly close, proves that Hawaii is a hard state to poll.

Idaho (R hold): The Governor with the best name in the country, Butch Otter, was reelected with 59.1% of the vote against 32.9% for Democrat Keith Allred. Former Republican state legislator Jana Kemp, running as an Independent, won 5.9%. Otter has always seemed to be underperform, for Idaho Republican standards, likely tied to the fact that he got in hot water for raising taxes once. Allred still managed to win three counties: Blaine, Teton (resorts) and Latah (Moscow, a college town).

Illinois (D hold): Democratic Governor Pat Quinn is the real comeback kid. Given for dead after a tough primary and lingering discontent with Illinois Democrats following the Blagojevich scandal; he’s come back for an unforeseen win over Republican Bill Brady. Quinn won 46.6% against 46.1% for Brady, while disgraced former Democratic LG candidate Scott Lee Cohen took 3.6% and Green Rich Whitney (misspelled as ‘Rich Whitey’ on some ballots – guess he didn’t do well in Chicago’s South Side) took only 2.7%. Quinn might have been helped by the fact that the more people learned about Brady, the less they liked him. It is understandable: Brady is a creationist (and ‘dog-murderer’) who fits in better in, say, Alabama than Illinois. Like Giannoulias in the Senate race, Quinn won only three counties – including Cook – but still won. What seems to have hurt Brady vis-a-vis Kirk is an underperformance in Chicago’s suburbs, because Brady did as well or slightly better than Kirk downstate. With Democratic control at the executive and legislative level, this gives Democrats the right to gerrymander the new congressional districts to their liking.

Iowa (R gain from D): Democratic Gov. Chet Culver was easily defeated by former four-term Republican Gov. Terry Branstad (1983-1999), who was seeking a fifth term. Branstad took 53% against 43.3% for Culver, who has suffered from the economic recession and was no match about Branstad, who reminded voters of the good times they had with him in the 80s and 90s. In the House, Republicans took control with 60 seats against 40 Democrats, overturning a 56-44 Democratic majority. It also came close to taking the Senate, and defeated the incumbent Sec. of State.

Kansas (R gain from D): Sen. Sam Brownback was easily elected Governor with 63.4% against 32.1% for Democrat Tom Holland. Democrats had won this seat back in 2002 with Kathleen Sebelius, who is now the HHS secretary. She was replaced by Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson, who did not run for reelection. Republicans also took out appointed Democratic statewide officeholders and obviously held their huge legislative majorities.

Maine (R gain from D): Republicans with Tea Party-backed candidate Paul LePage took this seat, held by term-limited Democratic Gov. John Baldacci. LePage, who seems to be an erratic and borderline crazy man, and despite his negative favourability numbers, won a plurality with only 38.3% of the vote. The late surger of the campaign, independent Eliot Cutler (who worked with the Carter administration) won 36.5% and nearly took out LePage, and would likely have won if the campaign had lasted another week. Democrats made a terrible pick with Libby Mitchell, the epitome of a boring old career politician, who took 19.1%. LePage, who is a French-American (giving him an edge with this traditionally Democratic electorate), did well in the upstate region of the state including Democratic French-American places like Aroostook County. However, Cutler won the more liberal counties on the coast. In addition, Republicans gained control of both houses of the legislature, currently controlled by Democrats.

Maryland (D hold): Elected in 2006 by defeating Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich, Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley won a rematch with Ehrlich easily, with 55.8% against 42.3% for Ehrlich. Seemingly, the Republican wave barely touched Maryland, maybe because the state has a large number of government workers, who, Republicans might say, like big government.

Massachusetts (D hold): Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick was narrowly reelected over his liberal Republican opponent Charlie Baker. Patrick, whose bad approval rating have improved somewhat, won 48.4% against 42.1% for Baker. Treasurer Tim Cahill, a former Democrat running to the right of both major candidates and drawing support from Blue Dog Democrats, won 8%. Surprisingly, while his support collapsed from 30% to 8% during the campaign, his support didn’t fall from the last polls to the voting booth. That might have hurt Baker. What also Baker, vis-a-vis Scott Brown in January, is that while he also performed strongly in Boston’s outer suburbs, he didn’t do as well as Brown did in small post-industrial towns such as Lowell. Democrats, despite Republicans actually finding candidates, held all statewide positions. Notably, AG Martha Coakley was reelected easily with 62.8%.

Michigan (R gain from D): In a state which has suffered a lot from the recession, Republicans have picked up this seat held by unpopular term-limited Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm. The Republicans, who picked their best candidate in Rick Snyder, a moderate businessman type, won with 58.1% against a paltry 39.9% for Democrat Virg Bernero, who only won five counties. Republicans also picked up the Michigan House, where they now hold 63 seats to Democrats’ 47 (it was D 67-43 before).

Minnesota (D gain from R): In a very narrow race, it seems as if former Democratic Sen. Mark Dayton won by a hair, with 43.7% against 43.2% for Republican state legislator Tom Emmer. In a race where the two major candidates are unappealing partisans, Independence Party candidate Tom Horner won 11.9% of the vote. That, and narrowly holding all other three statewide offices, was one of the DFL’s only bright spots given that Republicans shockingly seized control of both houses. In the House, they hold a 72-62 majority (it was D 87-47 before) and a 37-30 Senate majority (it was D 46-21 before).

Nebraska (R hold): Very popular Republican incumbent Gov. Dave Heineman was reelected with 74.3% against 25.7% for Democrat Mike Meister. Heineman won over 60% of the vote in all counties.

Nevada (R hold): After defeating embattled incumbent Gov. Jim Gibbons in the GOP primary, Brian Sandoval – a Latino – will become governor. Sandoval, a rather moderate candidate, took 53.4% of the vote against 41.6% for Harry Reid’s son, Rory Reid. NOTA won 1.7%. Downballot, however, Democrats defended all their incumbents and also narrowly kept their majorities in both houses of the legislature.

New Hampshire (D hold): Popular centrist Democratic Gov. John Lynch won a narrow reelection, especially when compared to his landslides in 2006 and 2008, with 52.6% against 45.1% for little-known Republican opponent John Stephen. That was really the only bright spot for Democrats, given that a Republican wave swept the state. In the excessively huge House, Republicans now hold a huge 298-102 veto-proof majority (it was D 225-175 before) and also took the Senate, 19-5 (it was D 14-10 before). New Hampshire has a small government libertarian feel (live free or die, after all, is the motto on the license plates); which might explain its tendency to have big swings against incumbent parties (Republicans in 2006-2008, Democrats in 2010).

New Mexico (R gain from D): New Mexico will have its first female Latina governor, Susana Martinez in January. She won 53.6% against 46.4% for Democratic LG Diane Denish in a race to succeed term-limited Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson, who has become unpopular with the campaign financing scandal which also killed his chances to join cabinet back in 2009. It may be surprising, but Martinez did well with Latinos overall (though probably narrowly lost them). That is largely because New Mexico’s Latino population, the biggest as a % share in the country, is largely of old Spanish stock rather than recent Mexican stock. The Spanish folks have been around for ages, and probably care much less about stuff such as illegal immigration. Seemingly, Navajo turnout was also dirt-poor (which isn’t surprising).

New York (D hold): AG Andrew Cuomo, son of fmr. Gov. Mario Cuomo, won easily over his insane Tea Party GOP opponent Carl Paladino, who is also the perfect stereotype of a shady Italian mafioso. Cuomo won 61.4% against 34.1% for Paladino, who will go back to his “construction business” soon enough. World-famous Rent is too damn high Party candidate Jimmy McMillan won only 1% of the vote. Paladino, however, managed to do insanely well in western upstate NY, where he’s from and won a landslide in his home county of Erie (a traditionally Democratic place, which includes Buffalo). Downballot, Democrat Eric Schneiderman easily held Cuomo’s old job but Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli was only narrowly reelected, probably because he isn’t squeaky clean himself on the financial front of things. The status of New York’s (Republican gerrymandered) Senate, the most dysfunctional legislature in the country, is still undecided, with Republicans at 30 against 29 for Democrats will 3 seats undecided. On the redistricting front, if Republicans get the Senate, a bi-partisan incumbent protection map will likely win out.

Ohio (R gain from D): Ohio has suffered a lot from the economic crisis, and it made its incumbent Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland pay the price. Despite a strong GOTV machine, Strickland, with 46.7%, has narrowly lost to Republican John Kasich who won 49.4%. The Republican wave also extended downballot, with Republicans taking control the House easily and seemingly sweeping all statewide positions. Notably, populist Democratic AG Richard Cordray narrowly lost to Mike DeWine (who had gotten a trouncing in the 2006 Senate race in Ohio). Control of all these positions give Republicans control over the redistricting process, a big advantage for them.

Oklahoma (R gain from D): Former Rep. Mary Fallin, a Republican, easily defeated Lt. Gov. Jari Askins with 60.1% against 39.9% for Askins. This seat was held by term-limited Democratic Gov. Brad Henry. Republicans also swept away all statewide offices, a number of which were still held by Democrats. In the state’s two most interesting ballot measures, one that would prohibit mandated health care passed with 64.7% in favour while another which would forbid use of international law or sharia law in state courts passed with 70% in favour.

Oregon (D hold): In Oregon, former Governor John Kitzhaber narrowly got another nonconsecutive term, winning 49.2% against 48.1% for Republican Chris Dudley, a former pro basketball player. Legislative control remains undecided, with the House tied at 30 apiece and the Senate at 15-13 for Dems with 2 undecided.

Pennsylvania (R gain from D): Republican AG Tom Corbett easily won the contest to succeed term-limited Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell in a state which has suffered a lot from the economic crisis. Corbett won 54.5% against 45.5% for Democrat Dan Onorato, who ran a pretty bad campaign. Republicans also took control of the House easily, giving them full control in the legislature and thus free hands on the redistricting process.

Rhode Island (I gain from R): Former Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee, a liberal Republican who became an Independent and backed Obama in 2008, was elected governor just 4 years after losing his Senate seat. Chafee, the most left-wing candidate in the race, took 36.1% against 33.6% for Republican John Robitaille, who did surprisingly well. Democrat Frank Caprio, who ran to Chafee’s right, seems to have suffered a lot from the comment he made in response to Obama’s decision not to endorse him: “he can take his endorsement and shove it”. He won a paltry third with 23%, while Moderate Party candidate Ken Block won a surprisingly good 6.5%. Democrats easily held statewide offices and the legislature. A ballot measure to remove “and Providence Plantations” from official state name failed badly, with 77.9% against.

South Carolina (R hold): Nikki Haley, an Indian-American woman, will succeed Mark Sanford after winning a surprisingly close race with 51.4% against 47.1% for Democrat Vincent Sheheen. The race ended up being surprisingly close, given that most thought Haley would glide to victory. Nobody seems to have come up with a good suggestion as to why it got close, but the common wisdom seems to be a mix between a good Democratic candidate and perhaps lingering racism from some voters (just as Bobby Jindal suffered from the same thing in Louisiana in 2003).

South Dakota (R hold): Dennis Daugaard, a Republican, won 61.5% against 38.5% for Democrat Scott Heidepriem.

Tennessee (R gain from D): Republican Bill Haslam won a landslide in a seat left open by term-limited Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen. He won 65% against his little-known and equally conservative Democratic opponent Mike McWherter who managed to get only 33.1%. Republicans also turned a narrow edge in the House into a big majority.

Texas (R hold): In office since Bush became President in 2001, Gov. Rick Perry won a third full term easily, a win which solidifies him in a potential run for national office soon. Perry, thought to be vulnerable early on, won 55.1% against 42.3% for Democrat Bill White, a former Houston mayor. White did better than Obama in old Dixiecrat places in east Texas, but still lost handily statewide. In addition to holding all other statewide positions, Republicans also routed Democrats in the House, where Democrats thought they could overturn the 76-74 Republican edge there. On the contrary, Republicans now hold a 99-51 majority there.

Utah (R hold): Incumbent Gov. Gary Herbert, in office since his predecessor Jon Huntsman was named ambassador to China in 2009, won his first term easily with 64.2% against 31.8% for Democrat Peter Corroon. Corroon won only one county, Summit.

Vermont (D gain from R): Left open with the retirement of Gov. Jim Douglas (R), Vermont was one of the Democrats’ few bright spots. State Senate President Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, won narrowly over Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, a moderate Republican. Shumlin won 49.6% against 47.8% for Dubie, meaning that the legislature will elect the governor given that nobody has over 50% – but that’s a formality and Shumlin will win while Dubie has already conceded. Dubie ran a moderate campaign focused on jobs and taxes, while Shumlin gave social issues such as abortion and gay marriage a larger role. Dubie might have been hurt by two factors: negative ads backfiring on him and his support for controversial Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. The legislature remains solidly Democratic, but Republicans did better in other statewide races, narrowly holding Dubie’s old seat (LG) and reelecting Auditor Thomas Salmon, a former Democrat who switched parties.

Wisconsin (R gain from D): Held by unpopular retiring Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, Republicans easily won in Wisconsin with 52.3% for Milwaukee County exec Scott Walker against 46.6% for Democrat Tom Barrett, who still got surprisingly close to Walker. Republicans also took control of both houses, giving them redistricting power.

Wyoming (R gain from D): Republican Matt Mead easily won term-limited Democratic Gov. Dave Freudenthal’s seat, taking 71.6% against 25.1% for Democrat Leslie Petersen. Mead even narrowly won traditionally Democratic Teton County, ski bunny country.

In other state legislative results, Republicans took North Carolina’s House and Senate for the first time since Reconstruction, meaning that Republicans will get to undo last time’s Democratic gerrymander in their favour (the Democratic governor has no veto power over that). The Republicans also gained Indiana’s House and easily held the Senate.

One can’t conclude this wrap-up of the midterms without featuring the best campaign ads of this cycle, and likely of the decade: Dale Peterson, defeated in the primary for Alabama Agriculture Commissioner.

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Posted on November 6, 2010, in Regional and local elections, U.S.A.. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Thanks for the post. “A first look” – does this mean there will be more?

  2. That’s a very nice and instructive overview of the Midterms’ results. Congratulations.

    Of course, I’d have a lot to comment, but we have the forum for that. ;)

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