The indispensable Charlie Cook, one of the country’s most astute (and probably most quoted) polling analysts, reflects on things that surprised him about the midterms, and subsequent developments.
It became clear the weekend before the general election that a separation was occurring between the fight for the House and the fight for the Senate. In the House, we saw a fully nationalized, parliamentary-style battle between the parties. In the Senate, we saw more of a collection of individual candidates and races that took on lives of their own. The separation took what was a plausible but uphill shot at the majority in the Senate and instead gave Republicans a very good night with a six-seat net gain.
Democrats suffered devastating defeats around the country. Republicans will have unilateral control of the remapping process in states with 190 congressional districts while Democrats will have control over no more than 75, depending on the outcome of some closely contested chambers. Additionally, Democrats will be down to holding just 38 percent of the state legislative seats nationwide, the lowest number since 1956. This is the seed corn for the future; this is where congressional and statewide candidates come from.
The final surprise of the year was Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to run for minority leader once Democrats officially lose their majority status. I have to admit, I never saw that one coming either.
It would be wrong to blame Pelosi for the Democratic loss, at least entirely… But it is equally wrong to… absolve her of any responsibility. No speaker or congressional party leader in history has been as thoroughly vilified in advertising from coast to coast as Pelosi has, and her poll numbers reflect that. She became the face of the Democratic Congress in districts where the local members should have been. She became a symbol of the kind of coastal liberalism that the South, the Border South, the Midwest and the Heartlands rejected.
On what else went wrong for the Democrats:
Beyond the symbolism and images, big mistakes were made and Democrats seem happy to blame President Obama and the economy and not accept responsibility for pursuing an agenda that turned independent voters, who had voted by an 18-point margin in 2006 for Democrats, to vote for Republicans by an 18-point margin in 2010, according to exit polls. This huge shift from one midterm election to the next, by a group that constitutes 26 percent of the electorate, is seismic. It is not a matter of turnout or partisan intensity; it is a clear indication that Democrats alienated voters in the middle who saw an agenda in 2009 and 2010 that was quite different and much more ideological that the one described in 2006 and 2008. For this, the bulk of House and Senate Democrats deserve responsibility but don’t seem to be accepting it.