8:09pm: Are Republicans going to win the House? Almost certainly. The question is only how big the majority will be. Are Republicans going to win the Senate? Probably not, but there's a fair possibility. What does all this mean in the grand scheme of things? Not as much as you think. The president's party almost always loses seats in his first midterm. But in the last century, the three presidents who actually lost Congress in their first midterm--Truman, Eisenhower, and Clinton--went on to win re-election.
In the short term, the Republican wave in this election will mean that no significant progressive legislation will be passed in the remainder of Obama's first term. In the long run, it remains to be seen what this means for the political trajectory of America. I believe that Republicans winning this election means Obama is even more likely to be re-elected in 2012. But as always, the general media narrative that develops after this election will play a major role. And here's one issue that has been pretty much ignored in major media: The American public still likes Democrats more than Republicans. That's worth pondering.
The irony is that Republicans are still going to win big tonight. But it's important to understand why. First, the economy makes this an anti-incumbent year, not an anti-Democratic year. Second, the Tea Party, the flood of corporate money into right-wing attack ads, and the first African-American in the White House have mobilized Republican base voters into a turnout frenzy. Nothing even close can be said for Democratic base voters. It's hard to make the case to all those first-time 2008 Obama voters to come out again in what seems to them like an off year. Midterm turnout is always a problem for Democrats. But fast-forward to 2012 and the intense interest in a presidential election cycle, and I think the big, slow progressive majority will probably rise again.
Is all of that going to be part of the narrative after tonight? Probably not. "America Repudiates Democratic Agenda" will be a more exciting headline to go with. We'll see.
9:10pm: Some results worth noting:
- Christine "I'm not a witch" McDonnell is defeated in Delaware, as expected. Her implosion during the campaign made it a lot harder for Republicans to capture the Senate.
- Right-winger Rubio wins the Senate seat in Florida. As noted in comments, Crist or Meek should have dropped out some time back and endorsed the other.
- Democrat Joe Machin wins the Senate seat in West Virginia. This is one that Republicans needed to pick off if this wave were going to be a real tsunami. I'm not sure if it's impossible yet for the Repubs to take the Senate, but this makes it that much harder.
9:18pm: Democrat Alan Grayson is defeated in FL-08. Not unexpected, but it still sucks. Grayson was in a swing district, but in Congress he was bold and progressive. He spoke truth to power during the health care debate, and that embarrassed national Republicans. He became a prime target for the right wing, as I noted back in May when I overheard GOP congressmen talking on a plane. His only hope for victory became a big turnout, and that just wasn't going to happen tonight.
10:10pm: Big-picture update: The GOP will absolutely take the House, as is now being reported by various networks. However, Joe Manchin's win in West Virginia makes it virtually impossible for the GOP to take the Senate. We should now be pulling for a big enough Democratic margin in the Senate that we don't have to worry about ConservaDems crossing over to caucus with the Senate GOP and flipping the majority.
10:23pm: Place to hold out hope: In the Pennsylvania Senate race, Democrat Joe Sestak is up 52% to 48% with 79% of the vote reporting. Good news. And looking at the county-by-county results, there lots of votes still to be counted in the Philadelphia area, which is more good news. It will feel really good if we can keep this seat Blue. (I should point out that Sestak has been an underdog in recent polling.)
10:50pm: I keep hitting refresh on those results from the Pennsylvania Senate race. With 89% of precincts reporting, Republican Pat Toomey leads by about 1,000 votes. But in Philadelphia County, where Democrat Joe Sestak currently leads, 340,168 to 65,861 votes, there are still 5% of precincts that have not reported. So many, many more votes will come for Sestake from Philly, but will they be enough to overtake the rural counties which are still trickling in more votes for Toomey? Right now, I feel optimistic. Refresh, refresh, refresh.
11:04pm: Polls just closed on the west coast. No major results in yet.
11:18pm: In California, looks like Democrats win Governor (Jerry Brown) and Senate (Barbara Boxer) pretty easily. Here's to hoping Prop 19--which would legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana--pulls through. This could be the beginning of the end of the "war on drugs," which is used to as a pretext to criminalize a large portion of the working class and militarize a large portion of Latin America.
11:37pm: Not looking good in the Pennsylvania and Illinois Senate races. The Dem candidates (Sestak and Giannoulias) are down by hefty margins and there aren't a lot of votes left in their strongholds (Philadelphia and Chicago). Both of these Dems were underdogs, but the early returns looked like possible upsets in the works.
12:05am: News outlets beginning to report that Democrats will keep control of the Senate.
12:36am: Some of the races I said looked bad earlier are now being officially called for Republicans, including Pennsylvania Senate, Illinois Senate. In governor's races, Republicans will have Ohio, Pennsylvania, and probably Florida--three big swing states.
-- Remaining potential Senate wins for Dems include Nevada (Reid) and Colorado (Bennet)--both of which are too close to call right now. Also, Patty Murray leads a close one in Washington right now with 60% of precincts reporting. No results from Alaska yet, where' it's conceivable that Democrat Scott McAdams could pull an upset in that three-way race.
12:41am: Nevada is called as a victory for Harry Reid! Democrats keep another Senate seat. At least on the Senate side, things are not nearly as bad as they might have been. Remember not long ago, even Barbara Boxer in California looked like she was in danger. Fingers crossed for Colorado and Washington...and Alaska just because I'm greedy.
1:15am: Well, Prop 19 went down in California. Let the pointless arrests continue!
1:59am: MSNBC just reported that there may have been a vote counting error in Colorado, where Republican Ken Buck leads Democrat Michael Bennet with about 60% of precincts in. Apparently, votes from a heavily Democratic county may have been filed under the wrong names--Buck getting Bennet's vote and Bennet getting Buck's votes. I'm looking at the county results on NYTimes.com, and it looks to me like most of the votes still out are in heavily Democratic areas around Denver.
Calling it a night. I'll be back tomorrow with more to say. But for now, I think we have most of the big answers we were looking for, although the Senate races in Colorado and Washington are still question marks. The big picture is that we're going to have a heavily Republican House and a lightly Democratic Senate working with (or against) the Obama administration. I think major legislation--whether conservative or progressive--is unlikely to come out of Congress in this situation. House GOP leadership will feel pressure to compromise with Obama to show that they're not just obstructionists, but the Tea Partiers among them will oppose any compromise or negotiation with Obama. More thoughts tomorrow.
Things to feel bad about: obviously the size of the Republican gains in the House (60-something seats?); the loss of progressive champion Sen. Russ Feingold in Wisconsin; Republican governor victories in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and probably Florida.
Things to feel good about: Democratic Senate wins in West Virginia and Nevada that assured the Senate stays Blue; down-to-the-wire Senate races in Colorado and Washington; a few governors wins that had been in some doubt, including California and probably Illinois; victory for House Progressive Caucus Chair Rep. Grijalva in Arizona.