Four years after Obama cruised to an easy win, we’re in, what the news reports say, one of the tightest elections in history. Theories abound that the election results won’t be in until Wednesday, that the count could last a week or more.
The big indicators tonight will be Virginia and Ohio. Once either of these states is called for Obama, the election is effectively over.
I actually think he’s going to take both of them—Ohio by a greater margin. Virginia is one of the two big question marks I have going in. The other is Colorado. The good news for my friends who are casting votes for Obama is that neither will matter, since I expect Obama to also pick up Nevada, Wisconsin, Iowa, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.
Obama—303 electoral votes, 50 percent of popular vote
Romney—235 electoral votes, 49 percent of popular vote
The results shouldn’t be that surprising given where the race was prior to the first debate. Then Obama took a nap and suddenly the race got interesting. But even at his peak, Obama was never able to pull into a clear lead. Like John Kerry eight years ago, there was a ceiling to his numbers that he simply couldn’t break through. In the final two weeks, Obama’s lead reemerged, and the habit of the electorate to break towards the incumbent in a tight election will, I believe, give him the votes he needs to pull the race out.
As disappointed as I expect Republicans to be by Romney’s loss, the results in the Senate should send an even larger shock through the party. As late as July, Republican hopes for taking the Senate looked strong. The Democrats were defending 23 seats and many of them (Florida, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota) looked highly vulnerable. Even Olympia Snowe’s retirement and the possibility of a de facto pickup with Independent Angus King in Maine did little to dampen the party’s enthusiasm.
Then Todd Akin opened his mouth and things started to get interesting.
Akin’s deranged comments about women’s biology effectively handed the Missouri race to Claire McCaskill, probably the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent in the field. The RNC pulled funding from Akin’s campaign when it appeared his comments could hurt the party as a whole. In the past month, Akin has seen a resurgence of funding, as Republican strategists have determined there will be little chance of taking the Senate without him.
Then, last month, Indiana candidate and Tea Party darling Richard Mourdock made some equally repugnant comments and handed the race to Joe Donnelly.
The Indiana race is emblematic of the Republican Party’s current struggles. The heavy shift to the right within the party is leading to a glut of candidates that, while popular at the primary level, are far too unappetizing to the larger electorate. This is apparent not simply in the Missouri and Indiana races, but also in the presidential campaign. I’m not referring to Romney, but to his opponents in the primary. Romney’s nomination, in a field that included such dead weight as Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum, was inevitable. But the heavy shifts to the right he made in his policy decisions left him far too vulnerable in the general.
The close races are going to go, largely, to Democrats. Some of this is thanks to inept Republican candidates (Murdouck, Akin), but much of it is due to excellent campaigns. Jon Tester is Montana is a prime example of this. While his opponent played prevent defense for the last few months, Tester hopped from one end of the state to the other, shaking hands, making appearances, and reminding voters of how likable a candidate he is.
At the moment, the breakdown of the Senate is 53-47 in favor of the Dems, with two Independents caucusing their way.
After tonight, I expect it to be 54-46, with the Dems picking up the seats in Massachusetts, Indiana, and Maine by proxy, while losing seats in Nebraska and North Dakota. The Republicans will hold in tight races in Nevada and Arizona, while the Dems will hold in tight races in Wisconsin, Connecticut, Montana, Florida, and Pennsylvania.
As for the House, I expect things ta tilt slightly toward the Democrats. This is not because they have done anything right, but simply because the last election was a “wave” election for the Republicans, so a bit of rollback is inevitable.
I believe the most interesting question after tonight will be what happens to the Republican Party from here. After a heavy loss, will the Tea Party assert that the big elections can only be won by a true conservative? Or will moderates reclaim the party and steer it back toward the middle?
Something will have to happen. After all, the Republicans made it their express mission to make Obama a one-term president, and thought until recently that they had a good chance to take the Senate. If tonight returns reveal that they have failed in both missions, where do they go next? Who leads them there?