Let’s start with the obvious: last night was a really, really good night. In addition to the marquee races around here – President Obama and Elizabeth Warren – Joe Kennedy III won Barney Frank’s seat by 25 points, handing Sean Bielat his second defeat in as many cycles, and Niki Tsongas, Bill Keating, Mike Capuano, Ed Markey, and Steve Lynch all easily turned back their challengers. In MA-6, John Tierney eked out a very narrow victory over Richard Tisei in the race that was the MA GOP’s best hope for relevance. And, as johnk summarizes, things went from bad to worse for the GOP in the state legislature. If there’s a bright spot for state Republicans in what happened yesterday, I can’t see it.
Nearby, we’ve got two awesome Democrats (Carol Shea-Porter and Annie Kuster) defeating Republican incumbents in the New Hampshire House races (NH will now have an all-female congressional delegation plus a female governor – a first?), we’ve got independent Angus King (who’s expected to caucus with the Dems, though he hasn’t said so officially) picking up Olympia Snowe’s Senate seat in Maine, and we’ve got Democrat Chris Murphy handing Linda McMahon her second straight, incredibly expensive Senate loss in Connecticut. Outside the region, the Senate races were mostly excellent: Democrat Joe Donnelly picked up a seat for the Dems in Indiana (a win that seemed incredibly unlikely not long ago), Claire McCaskill held her Senate seat in Missouri (another one that was a real longshot), Tammy Baldwin beat Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin, Tim Kaine beat George Allen in Virginia, Jon Tester held in deep red Montana, and Heidi Heitkamp won in North Dakota. The only slight disappointments were Jeff Flake winning in Arizona when it seemed that Richard Carmona might actually have a shot, Deb Fischer beating Bob Kerrey in Nebraska (the GOP’s only Senate pickup), and Shelley Berkley failing to unseat Dean Heller in Nevada, but those races were always a real stretch. Net result: Dems pick up 2 seats, assuming King caucuses with the Dems, in a year in which the Republicans were supposed to have a great chance at taking control.
The House was less awesome, with very little overall change in the chamber’s composition and Republicans still firmly in control. But there were some very bright spots: in Illinois, Tammy Duckworth booted the wretched Joe Walsh; and in Florida, Alan Grayson is back in, and Allen West probably lost. And I must give a shout-out to Raul Ruiz, about whom I’ve written before and who looks on track to unseat Mary Bono Mack in California’s 36th district (the race remains too close to call as of now), which would be a big and awesome upset. Let me know if I missed any especially noteworthy races.
Beyond the candidates themselves, there were more winners and losers. Let’s have a look at a few of them.
Winner: The People’s Pledge. In an unprecedented and very gutsy move, Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown agreed early on that their campaigns would pay a substantial financial penalty if any third-party group ran broadcast, print, or online advertising on their behalf. Many thought the deal wouldn’t hold up when the going got tough. But it did – there were a few very minor violations, but we, alone among tight Senate races in the country, were spared the onslaught of negative TV ads from Karl Rove and the rest of the Super PAC gang. Yes, there are some loopholes that could be tightened up (direct mail and robocalls come immediately to mind). But by and large, the agreement was a huge success, and both campaigns deserve hearty praise for agreeing to it, and for sticking to it. Scott Brown in particular should be proud of standing by a principle he had clearly stated even when it became clear that doing so was probably hurting his reelection chances. One hopes that the Pledge will serve as a model in future races here and elsewhere. We actually beat Citizens United.
Winners: Nate Silver, Sam Wang, and other statistics geeks. I wrote this issue up a week or so ago in a post entitled “the epic showdown of 2012: geeks vs. pundits.” And the result is crystal clear: the geeks won. Both Silver and Wang consistently showed Obama ahead, and by the weekend before election day had him as a prohibitive favorite to win, which he did. Furthermore, Silver’s final map of which state favored whom exactly nailed how the race actually went, and Wang’s was off only because he gave Florida to Romney by a whisker – an entirely defensible call, since the polling showed it a dead heat and, in fact, the state hasn’t actually been called for Obama yet (although he holds what appears to be a small but insurmountable lead). So they were right about who would win, and they were basically right about how he would do it. They were also both very close to the actual popular vote totals.
Winner: polling. I’ve said this after every major election since this blog has been in existence, and I can say it again today: polling works. Not every individual poll nails it, of course, but on the whole, the enterprise works remarkably well – particularly when you are smart about ignoring internal polls and polls conducted by obviously biased operations. The geeks like Silver and Wang depend on pollsters basically doing their jobs well, and the fact that the geeks were so successful is a testament to the fact that most pollsters are pretty good.
Winner: Public Policy Polling. Some pollsters are better than others, and this cycle, Public Policy Polling had an exceptionally strong track record. They were just named the most accurate pollster in the country by a study out of Fordham University. More importantly, their polling in the swing states nailed just about every result, and usually was pretty close to the actual margin. They also hit most of the big Senate races, and even got several notoriously-difficult-to-poll ballot questions right. They are always identified as a “Democratic” firm (I’m not sure exactly why), but this cycle should cement their reputation as generally doing an excellent job.
Losers: Gallup and Rasmussen. Gallup is the most famous pollster in the country, but this year its record was awful. For almost two weeks before its operations were interrupted by Hurricane Sandy, its national tracking poll of “likely voters” was showing Romney ahead from 3 to as much as 7 points. No other head-to-head pollster was seeing results like that; most of them showed a dead heat, or one candidate or the other up by 1 or 2 points at most. The disparity was so obvious that Nate Silver devoted a long post to it. Gallup missed several days right before the election but published a final poll on Monday, which showed Romney up by 1 point, 49-48. Closer, but still no cigar: in the final analysis, Obama won by over 2 points and got over 50% of the total votes cast. Interestingly, Gallup’s “registered voter” numbers were much closer to the other pollsters’ down the stretch, and to the final results. Perhaps Gallup should look into refining its “likely voter” screen.
Rasmussen has a reputation for favoring Republicans, and this cycle it showed again that it’s well-earned. Rasmussen’s final takes on VA, OH, WI, IA, and CO were all wrong in favor of Romney (showing either a tie or Romney ahead), sometimes by quite a few points.
Winner: Suffolk – in Massachusetts. David Paleologos at Suffolk University continues to have an excellent record polling Massachusetts races. His bellwether polls (of Waltham and Gloucester) were right, accurately predicting that Elizabeth Warren would win, and his last statewide poll pegged Warren’s lead at 7, only 1 point off her actual margin of 8. For Massachusetts races, Suffolk continues to be the gold standard. However…
Loser: Suffolk – everywhere else. Paleologos made a huge mistake by announcing publicly, almost a month before the election, that Suffolk was pulling out of polling VA, FL, and NC because Romney was a lock to win all three states. Obama of course won VA and will probably end up winning FL, and NC was down to the wire. In addition, Suffolk’s bellwether polls of Ohio and New Hampshire both blew it, incorrectly predicting that Romney would win both states. New Hampshire wasn’t even close.
Losers: right-leaning pundits who saw what they wanted to see rather than what was real. I’m looking at you, Michael “Gallup says Romney’s winning so he has to win” Graham, George “Romney will even win Minnesota” Will, Peggy “all the vibrations are right” Noonan, and many others who wanted to push Obama out of the White House so badly that they refused to look at what should have been painfully obvious: Obama held modest but consistent leads in most of the key swing states in the week or so prior to election day, and if anything the polls were trending slightly toward Obama. Republicans have often been fairly criticized for not being “reality based,” and this is a good example of that unfortunate tendency. The polls were not skewed, and numbers don’t lie (if they are crunched properly). These guys all just refused to look at them, and now they look ridiculous. Along similar lines, don’t miss Slate’s excellent “Pundarts” pundit scorecard, done up as a dart board.
UPDATE: Holy crap, they are still doing it. Check our Byron York’s post-mortem, posted Wednesday morning:
Before Sandy, Romney’s aides had watched him move up, point by point, in the national tracking polls. After Sandy, Romney slipped, Obama rose, and the race became a virtual tie.
False. False, false, false. This is the “Ro-mentum” myth that has long since been repeatedly and hilariously debunked by the geeks. Romney’s post-Denver momentum ended at least a week before Hurricane Sandy was on anyone’s radar. Moreover, the race has never been a “virtual tie.” But the wingers just can’t accept any of that, because it would mean that Obama’s reelection was not an unfortunate coincidence, but rather a failure of their candidate and their message.
Losers: hysterical right-wing online media. By which I mean outfits like Breitbart.com, the Drudge Report, Legal Insurrection, and even our good friends at Red Mass Group, who about once a week breathlessly announced that they had discovered the previously-undisclosed hidden skeleton in a Democrat’s closet that would finally, once and for all, reveal said Democrat as the cheating, lying fraud that they always knew in their gut that he or she was. Problem was, nobody cared. Whether it was Elizabeth Warren’s “scientific misconduct,” or Barack Obama’s hugging critical race theorist Derrick Bell, or any of Drudge’s made-up bombshells, or Warren’s law license, or any of a host of other nonsense issues, the wingnuts could never get any traction either with the mainstream media or with normal voters, who can see through BS like this much more effectively than many people (including many politicians) give them credit for.
Winner: marriage equality. Before yesterday, marriage equality had had a rough time at the ballot box, losing something like 30 straight contests when it came to state ballot questions. That streak ended yesterday: Maine, Washington, and Maryland approved laws that will authorize same-sex marriage, and Minnesota rejected a state constitutional amendment that would have banned it. Of course, it is only a matter of time before this issue is resolved the right way once and for all, and the time may come sooner than anyone thought.
Winner: John Walsh. The chair of the state Democratic party showed once again that the best way to win an election is to figure out who your voters are, and ask them – repeatedly, and in person – to show up. He also showed that he knows how to assemble an extremely effective system for doing exactly that. Result: another clean sweep for Democrats in Massachusetts.
Loser: Bob Maginn. The chair of the state Republican party, in contrast, showed that he knows how to assemble a lot of web videos that nobody watches and how to send out a lot of hysterical direct mail attack pieces. Unfortunately for him, it seems that those things either don’t convince anyone of anything, or they don’t persuade people to show up on election day, or both.
That’s my list. What did I miss?