Update 11/15/2018: This post was revised to update vote totals, U.S. House, and U.S. Senate results as races continue to be called. Projections come from fivethirtyeight.com, which you should check out!
So Democrats take the House and Republicans keep the Senate. Democratic Governor Tom Wolf wins another term, as does Democratic U.S. Senator Bob Casey. In the fighting 16th Congressional district, incumbent Republican Mike Kelly holds on for a narrow win over Democratic challenger Ron DiNicola.
Let’s start with the local race and work our way up to state and national implications. Ron DiNicola fought an incumbent Rep. in a district with a 17.5-point Republican lean, and lost by about 4. Despite some good old-fashioned mud slinging toward the end of the race, this one seemed to be a story of “Generic Republican” vs. “Generic Democrat”, which in the end wasn’t enough to pull DiNicola over the line. You have to wonder whether some better fundraising could have made the difference in this one. In a year when Democrats outspent Republicans by a wide margin including more than a few districts with Republican incumbents, DiNicola couldn’t tap into that stream but ran an otherwise admirable race.
Things were not as close in the U.S. Senate race. Polls closed at 8:00, Bob Casey was the projected winner about 30 seconds later, and Republican challenger Lou Barletta came out of the wilderness long enough to deliver a concession speech. It was the first time anyone had seen Barletta in at least a month.
No drama in the Race for governor, either. Tom Wolf easily held off Republican Scott Wagner. Wagner wasn’t close before he threatened to stomp on Wolf’s face with golf spikes, and the threat of physical violence doesn’t seem to have helped. Good.
Overall in the U.S. House, it looks like Democrats earned a 7.2% advantage in the national popular vote on their way to a 39 seat gain. This was a Herculean effort to overcome the extreme gerrymandering we’re still dealing with from Republicans following the 2010 Tea Party wave election. To give you a sense of just how far Republicans have gone to choose their own voters, consider this: when Republicans flipped 63 seats in the 2010 race, their popular vote advantage over Democrats was 6.6%, less than the Dems advantage last night. Make no mistake – this election was a clear rebuke of and a desire to provide a check on President Trump. That this came during the best economy in a generation is all the more remarkable.
In the Senate, Republicans increased their majority by 2 seats. You might be tempted to think of this as a split decision, or even a vote of confidence for President Trump. It is not. Because senators serve 6-year terms, only a third are up every cycle, meaning the partisan makeup of a senate map can vary widely. The senate map in 2018 was unbelievably friendly to Republicans – their friendliest in over 100 years. With 35 seats up for grabs (34 + 1 special election in MS), Democrats were defending 26 seats, including 10 in states won by Trump in 2016. Democrats were defending nine seats, and just one in a Clinton state. So holding losses to 2 seats in that environment was a miracle, though the “liberal” mainstream media is already giving Trump credit for it.
Other notable races from the night: Democrats look to have come up just short in a bunch of races that they invested in heavily, most notably in Florida where they led in most polls leading up to Election Day. Florida Governor, Florida Senate, Georgia Governor, Texas Senate, Tennessee Senate, Ohio Senate, Ohio Governor, Indiana Senate, and Iowa Governor were all races that Democrats out-performed their 2016 margins yet still lost. Winning just a couple of these, especially on the Senate side, would’ve brought the night from good to great. Several of these losses were by <1 point, but a loss is a loss. On the other hand, Kansas elected a Democratic governor. Kansas! Three House Republican committee chairmen were sent packing. The only Republican senator running in a Clinton state, Nevada’s Dean Heller, lost comfortably. Democrat Joe Manchin held a Senate seat in WV, a state that went for President Trump by 42 points just two years ago.
One last takeaway, and this one is uncomfortable. Too many people are comfortable with, or willing to look the other way in the face of racism. The closing Republican message was pure racial animus, led by the president and encouraged by Republican representatives across the country. Asserting (falsely, duh) that Democrats “let in” an illegal immigrant to kill cops was so obscene NBC and Fox News pulled it off their air and Facebook refused to promote it. Sending more troops to the southern border to stop the caravan of asylum-seekers, which is a 100% legal process, than we have prosecuting the War on Terror in Afghanistan is unconscionable. Stating that people from “s***hole countries” where dark-skinned people live shouldn’t be allowed to enter our country is anti-1st Amendment and therefore anti-American. And of course, let’s not forget the praise of white nationalists in Charlottesville as “many fine people”. To way too many Americans, the sum total of this ugliness was not ugly enough to warrant a vote against the party that sat silently by in tacit approval. And that is a shame.
Finally, the strongest message of this election is still this – voting works. Voting matters. And if it is lasting change we seek, we will need to stay motivated to vote in the future.