The Morning Jolt

Elections

The Not-So-Bad Duck-Rabbit Election

(James Lawler Duggan/Reuters )

That . . . wasn’t so bad after all, was it? This midterm election was like that optical illusion of a duck or a rabbit. If you look at it from one angle, it’s a blue wave with a huge shift in the U.S. House of Representatives! If you look at it from another angle, it’s a red wave with the GOP picking up a bunch of Senate seats! If you look at it from the governor’s races . . . eh, it’s a mixed bag.

The hottest of hot takes: If last night had been a disaster from top to bottom and coast to coast for the GOP, there would have been a much greater appetite for a GOP challenger to Donald Trump in the 2020 primary. The president’s approval among Republicans would have taken a hit, and the anti-Trump voices within the party would have argued, “Look, we tried his approach and it failed. His win in 2016 was a fluke. We’re going to get demolished at every level in 2020 if we re-nominate this guy, it’s time for something different.” But now, states such as Ohio and Florida still look pretty red, and states such as Iowa and Wisconsin don’t feel all that far out of reach.

It’s also worth noting that we’re in a fairly consistent pattern since at least 2006 where a party’s victories generate complacency and a party’s defeats generate outraged enthusiasm. John Kerry’s loss in 2004 begat the 2006 Democratic wave, Obama’s 2008 landslide begat the Tea Party and the 2010 wave, the scare of 2010 got Obama and the Democrats to hit the panic button for 2012, the disappointment of 2012 generated that second GOP midterm wave in 2014, and Democrats started thinking about the 2018 midterms during Hillary Clinton’s concession speech.

That’s What Happens When You Mess with Cocaine Mitch, Punks!

Dear God, did the Senate Democrats’ strategy on Brett Kavanaugh backfire on them on an epic scale. I do think that before the Kavanaugh fight, the Democrats were on the path to that “Blue Tsunami.” And then they decided that rerunning the Neil Gorsuch fight wasn’t going to be enough; they had to fully embrace a bunch of accusations that had no supporting witnesses.

Claire McCaskill, gone. Finally. I laid out her devilish luck in yesterday’s Jolt; for at least twelve years, Missouri Republicans yearned for a chance to take her on in a relatively normal political environment with a candidate who wasn’t a walking Superfund site of toxicity. Lo and behold, with no political wind at her back, no good GOP rivals being knocked out by the political equivalent of anvils falling from buildings or alien abductions, Josh Hawley won . . . by about 144,000 votes. The old “Vote liberal for four or five years, veer back to the center in election years” strategy of red-state Democrats finally stopped working.

Taylor Swift could not deliver Tennessee for Phil Bredesen. In retrospect, the hype around the former governor looks like wishful thinking on the part of Democrats. He last won a statewide race in 2006, and as soon as Marsha Blackburn nationalized this race, it was over. Blackburn won by about 245,000 votes last night. You figure that Democrats will have a hard time recruiting a top-tier candidate anytime soon.

Rick Scott won in Florida! Never underestimate this man again. If aliens invade Florida in 2022, Scott will lead the forces of humanity to a narrow upset victory, because that’s what he does every four years — win something that nobody thinks he has a chance to win, by about one percent. Florida Democrats will console themselves that it was so close, but with the high turnout, four-tenths of a percentage point comes out to . . . about 34,000 votes. After the 2000 presidential election, that’s a Florida landslide.

As of this writing, Mike Braun is on pace to win Indiana’s Senate by 10 points, or about 189,000 votes. A lot of people are pointing to this result as a polling failure, but remember that because of Indiana’s strict anti-robocall laws, pollsters survey this state less frequently because they have to use live interviewers. The lesson here is, trust your instincts! A GOP candidate in a longtime Republican-leaning state, the home state of the current vice president, up against a Democrat who won with 50 percent in a presidential year and who votes against Kavanaugh a month before Election Day . . . has a really good chance to win and win comfortably.

Face it, we’re not even that upset that Joe Manchin won in West Virginia. His victory offers the lesson that any red-state Democrat could have improved their chances for reelection by voting for Brett Kavanaugh.

We should give Beto O’Rourke a bit of credit; coming within three points is better than any Democrat running statewide in Texas since . . . Ann Richards, I think? But that’s . . . not a victory, which is a fair expectation when you raise $70 million and spend $60 million. And because of the scale of the turnout, those three points amount to 213,750 votes. Turnout was more than 8.3 million votes, and I recall seeing O’Rourke fans insisting that if turnout surpassed 8 million votes, then their man was certain to win. Guys, there are a lot of Republicans in Texas.

As of this writing, Matt Rosendale has a narrow lead over Jon Tester in Montana. Sean Trende thinks the precincts that have yet to report are probably more Tester-friendly and should put him over the top.

As of this writing, Martha McSally is narrowly ahead in Arizona, by about 16,000 votes, with eleven precincts still to report. Gee, it’s almost like that heavy-registered Republican advantage in the early vote meant something, huh? I understand that every time Arizona Republicans told exit pollsters that they were voting for McSally, the nearby Democratic volunteers would gasp in surprise, “Martha? Why did you say that name?”

The one GOP frustration for the night? Dean Heller lost, and it wasn’t that close; five percent or about 48,000 votes. Credit Jon Ralston and his analysis of the demographics of Nevada’s early vote.

If my biannual “Hey, Republicans have a shot in New Jersey this year” piece felt pretty skeptical . . . well, experience can be a painful but effective teacher.

And about six years later than I wanted to, I get to write the headline, “MITT ROMNEY WINS; HE’S ON HIS WAY TO WASHINGTON.” He’s been a governor of Massachusetts and will be a senator from Utah; the only other American who’s been a governor and senator of separate states is . . . Sam Houston, who was governor of Tennessee and then governor and senator from Texas. Pretty cool!

The Bad News: Speaker Pelosi. The Good News: Running Against Speaker Pelosi in 2020.

Don’t underplay this; this was indeed a blue wave. As of this writing, Democrats are picking up 27 seats, with about 21 races still waiting to be called. Democrats won just about all of the seats that I predicted would flip on Monday, and could get a dozen more.

The absolute shocker of the night in my book is Joe Cunningham beating Katie Arrington in South Carolina’s first district — Mark Sanford’s old district! This is Charleston and Hilton Head and parts of Beaufort County.

The Democrats won seats no one saw coming, such as in Oklahoma’s fifth district, where Kendra Horn beat GOP incumbent Steve Russell. Russell won his district, which encompasses Oklahoma City, by 21 points in 2016! No poll had that race closer than ten points! Republicans lost the House district that represents Staten Island, the last Republican stronghold in New York City.

The narrative that Trump is killing his party in the suburbs accumulated a lot of supporting evidence last night, in races such as Barbara Comstock’s and Dave Brat’s districts in Virginia, John Faso’s district in New York, and Mia Love’s in the Salt Lake City suburbs.

The GOP lost three out of four competitive House races in Virginia. (Thanks a lot, Corey Stewart.) A reader in Virginia’s second district wrote in, “At my polling place the Republican table had flyers for Corey Stewart, but none for Scott Taylor who, unlike Stewart, had a chance. Heck of a job, GOP.” The GOP lost three out of four competitive seats in Iowa. The GOP lost at least three competitive seats in New Jersey, and a fourth one is too close to call.

But in Texas, Dan Crenshaw won. Take that, Saturday Night Live.

The Democrats are thrilled with their new investigative powers, but I’m not sure those enthusiastic efforts will be as fruitful as they hope. For starters, this White House may just pull an Eric Holder and ignore the subpoenas and scoff at being found in contempt of Congress. (Separately, this administration may be so disorganized that they simply never get around to responding to the subpoenas.) The problem is that looking at Trump’s tax returns or other investigations of Trump may thrill the party’s base, but it’s not quite the forward-looking agenda that Democrats are going to need to keep this majority. Apparently Nancy Pelosi is already trying to downplay talk of impeachment.

There’s a silver lining or two in here for Republicans. Some of these seats, such as Darrell Issa’s old seat in California, are probably lost for a long, long time. But some of these Democratic wins look like flukes or fairly easy to win back, like the Oklahoma City or coastal South Carolina seats.

And the House Republicans who withstood this wave are probably pretty secure for the future.

Brian Fitzpatrick in Bucks County, Pa.; Ross Spano in that stretch between Tampa and Orlando; Troy Balderson in the suburbs of Columbus; Scott Perry in Harrisburg. At this hour, Bruce Polquin is hanging on in northern Maine, as is Jeff Denham east of San Jose. If Democrats couldn’t take Ed Royce’s old seat in the district covering parts of Los Angeles, Orange, and San Bernardino Counties, in an open-seat race in this kind of political environment, they may never.

The Governors: Not So Bad!

That massacre of the GOP in the upper Midwest wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared. In one of the biggest surprises of the night, Republican Mike DeWine, a senator quite a few years ago, will be the next governor of Ohio. Kim Reynolds won in Iowa. Scott Walker almost hung on in Wisconsin, but fell short by 31,000 votes. Wisconsin Democrats are dancing this morning, but Walker had a huge and lasting impact on how that state is governed. I hope Walker doesn’t stay away from politics for long; competent managers are hard to find.

Remember when I said Republicans were telling me that Stacey Abrams was the most overhyped candidate besides Beto O’Rourke? As of this writing, it appears that the Republicans won the governor’s race in Georgia, but Abrams and the Democrats don’t want to acknowledge it. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Brian Kemp has 50.5 percent, more than the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff. He leads by 75,386 votes. Abrams isn’t even arguing that she won; she’s arguing that once all the absentees are counted, Kemp won’t be above the threshold and the race will automatically go to a runoff on December 4.

As of this morning, there are 3,886,414 votes cast in this race. To shave off that half-percent of Kemp’s lead, Abrams and Libertarian candidate Ted Metz would have to gain 19,432 votes out of the remaining absentee ballots. The Abrams campaign calculates that there are about 100,000 absentee ballots out there. Abrmas and Metz would have to win about 60 percent of them to get Kemp under the threshold to avoid a runoff.

The crown jewel for Republicans was Ron DeSantis’s win in Florida, in a year when Democrats were convinced that Andrew Gillum was the next superstar. When you look at where Democrats actually picked up governorships — Janet Mills in Maine, Steve Sisolak in Nevada, Michelle Grisham in New Mexico, Laura Kelly in Kansas – maybe the national hype for a first-time gubernatorial candidate is counter-productive. Or maybe it’s better for Democrats in these red-to-purple states to tone down the claims that the Great Socialist Revolution is upon us.

A couple of good opportunities slipped through Republican fingers, such as Ned Lamont currently leading in Connecticut, as of this hour.

Incumbent Republicans who were on the ballot did pretty well, with the exception of Bruce Rauner in Illinois. Larry Hogan in Maryland, Doug Ducey in Arizona, Greg Abbott in Texas, Charlie Baker in Massachusetts, Chris Sununu in New Hampshire, Phil Scott in Vermont, Bill Lee in Tennessee, Henry McMaster in South Carolina — these are largely no-flash, little-controversy guys.

ADDENDUM: I’m taping Jonah’s podcast today, look for it later this week. There will be no Jolt on Friday or Monday.

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