With only a handful of House races still being sorted out, the 2010 midterm elections are now almost entirely settled. And yet, despite all the vote totals, exit polls, and other data we have received, we’re left with some results that are almost maddening.
1. The New England doldrums: New Hampshire is back to being a GOP-leaning state, with Kelly Ayotte taking the Senate race and Republicans winning back both House seats, which they had lost in 2006. And Maine’s governor-elect, Paul LePage, is one of the cycle’s least-expected winners. But beyond that, few Republicans even came close in the New England states, despite a big surge in enthusiasm and various indicators of good news. In late polls, both House seats in Maine appeared competitive, but Republicans lost both by double digits. Connecticut’s 4th and 5th Congressional Districts had a similar story: Surveys showed GOP challengers coming on strong at the end, only to finish six and eight percentage points behind, respectively.
And then there’s Massachusetts. Perhaps defeating Barney Frank was a dream, but Jeff Perry finished an agonizing 4.5 percentage points short in an open-seat House race in the most GOP-friendly district in the state. Needless to say, the rest of Massachusetts was even worse for the party. In almost every state, conservatives had something to cheer about on November 3, but in Massachusetts they could only stare in disbelief as voters reelected almost every incumbent in a year that was heavily anti-incumbent nationwide.
Ten months after Scott Brown, in a region with high unemployment, Republicans fell short in race after race. If the GOP can’t win in New England in a year like this, will they ever?
2. New York’s top-of-the-ticket boomerang: All year long, I lamented that a slew of promising candidates for the House were getting no help from the top of the ticket in the Empire State, where the governor’s race and both Senate races (the second was a special election in which the incumbent, Kirsten Gillibrand, had been appointed to fill Hillary Clinton’s seat) were set to be Democratic landslides. At least four and perhaps six Republican House challengers proved they didn’t need top-of-the-ticket help. In retrospect, Democrats are probably wondering whether competitive races might have helped drive turnout on their side.
In 2012, Obama will probably increase turnout among blacks and young voters. Can Republicans keep the seats they just won narrowly, and could they grab a few that they narrowly missed this time, like Maurice Hinchey’s in the 22nd district and Bill Owens’s in the 23rd?
3. The wave that skipped the House races in North Carolina: How did Republicans win only one of four competitive House races — Renee Ellmers still has to survive a recount effort from the trailing Democratic incumbent, Bob Etheridge — while Richard Burr won the Senate race by twelve points and Republicans won sweeping gains in both the state house and the state senate? What put voters in a distinctly pro-Republican mood, but let them decide to keep Democratic incumbents Mike McIntyre, Larry Kissell, and Heath Shuler in office for another term? Above all, how did these Democrats hang on in districts that are R+5, R+2, and R+6?
4. The reverse Blago effect: Illinois is another state that offered some counterintuitive results. In the first major general election since the Rod Blagojevich scandal, one expected the voters of Illinois, beleaguered and fed up, to take out their frustration on Blago’s right-hand man, Pat Quinn, the lieutenant governor who was sworn in as governor after his chief was convicted. If Republicans would underperform in any races, it would be the U.S. House and Senate races, right?