2014: Plenty of Surprises, but None Totally Unexpected

by Stuart Rothenberg November 7, 2014 · 12:08 PM EST

Yes, that was a wave. A big one. In many respects, it was a wave that was larger and more damaging to Democrats than in 2010.

Republicans now have more House seats, more Senate seats and more governorships than they did after the humongous GOP wave of 2010. They now have the governors of Maryland and Massachusetts, a post-Great Depression record of House seats and, finally, control of the Senate.

I didn’t expect these congressional Democrats to have close races: Maryland’s John Delaney, California’s Jim Costa, Connecticut’s Jim Himes and New York’s Louise M. Slaughter. The same goes for Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.

And then there were the margins.

Rep. Tom Cotton’s 18-point win in the Arkansas Senate race was almost as large as John Boozman’s 21-point victory over Sen. Blanche Lincoln in 2010 — even though Sen. Mark Pryor was supposed to be a much more formidable foe than Lincoln was four years ago. Pryor drew 39 percent of the vote, while Lincoln drew 37 percent.

In Georgia, Republican David Perdue beat Michelle Nunn by 8 points and easily avoided a runoff for the Senate. In Iowa, Joni Ernst beat Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley by the same margin in the open-seat Senate race. Republican Sen. Pat Roberts won by an inconceivable 11 points after being down double-digits a couple of months ago.

New York Republican John Katko not only beat Democratic Rep. Dan Maffei, he beat him by 20 points. On Long Island, Lee Zeldin defeated Democratic Rep. Timothy H. Bishop by 10 points. Iowa Republican David Young won an open seat over Staci Appel by 11 points, and Georgia Democrat John Barrow was trounced by 10 points.

As I said, there were plenty of surprises, and it was a dramatic night for Republicans. But it shouldn’t have been a complete shock to anyone.

I wrote in my Sept. 8 column, following Labor Day:

“After looking at recent national, state and congressional survey data, and comparing this election cycle to previous ones, I am currently expecting a sizable Republican Senate wave.”

“Right now, this cycle looks much like 2010, when Democrats with reasonable profiles got crushed in Republican-leaning and swing states,” I added, noting that while I expected a “substantial Republican Senate wave in November, with a net gain of at least seven seats,” I also “wouldn’t be shocked by a larger gain.”

Democratic strategists have plenty to think about after a second straight midterm slaughter.

First, either Democratic polling had significant problems, or their pollsters and operatives intentionally misled reporters and handicappers about what was going on during the cycle. I prefer to think that they simply had bad numbers and refused to acknowledge the seriousness of their situation.

Republicans had a tough polling cycle in 2012, of course, and they went through a process of rather public reflection and self-criticism. It will be interesting to see whether Democrats do the same.

Second, many Democratic operatives assumed they were so far superior to the GOP in field, targeting and turnout that they couldn’t lose races in blue or purple states. After all, these were the folks who brought you the Bannock Street project, so how could they possibly lose a race in Colorado?

Third, some Democrats simply were in denial almost right up until the end. On Tuesday evening, Sen. Mark Udall’s campaign was still saying Democratic ballots were arriving and would change the trajectory of the outcome.

Udall’s campaign, of course, was a textbook example of what not to do. The Democrat ran left as far and as fast as he could, and his campaign’s obsession with women’s issues and cultural issues was widely mocked.

In Arkansas, Democrats talked so often and so confidently about how great of a candidate Pryor was and how terrible a candidate Cotton was that they — and some reporters — actually believed it could be decisive.

If I could see that a wave was coming two months before the election, it couldn’t have been that hard to see.

Instead, reporters and TV anchors continued to ask whether the election was being nationalized or not, and they treated the Mitch McConnell-Alison Lundergan Grimes and Pryor-Cotton races as Tossups long after there was any doubt about who would win those contests. Last night, around 1:30 a.m., I even heard CNN anchors talking as if there is great doubt about the Louisiana runoff.

When a political wave develops, it is difficult to know exactly how high it will crest. Like many, I had a difficult time believing Maryland would actually elect a Republican governor, or that Ed Gillespie might win his Virginia Senate race. And Slaughter in a photo finish?

But let’s not act as if there weren’t plenty of signs of a wave. They were there — even two months before Election Day.