Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Perspective

A strong night for Democrats by these measures

Before Nov. 6, it didn't seem like the 2012 election would be a wave election — certainly not one on par with 2006, when the Democrats took over the U.S. House and Senate, or 2010, when the Republicans took over the House. And, as it turned out, voters chose to return President Barack Obama to office and keep the Democratic majority in the Senate and the Republican majority in the House — essentially a status-quo election.

Still, there was a pretty clear winner on Election Day: The Democratic Party saw a coattail effect from Obama's re-election victory at virtually every level of elected office.

Just days before Election Day, we outlined 10 factors to watch to gauge how well the two parties fared up and down the ballot. For simplicity, we based our rating scale on the Democrats' performance, since they were the party in power in the White House.

Now it's time to see how the Democrats did on election night:

1How many battleground states does President Barack Obama win?

Of the nine swing states we were tracking, Obama won eight — Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin. The only one he lost was North Carolina. This earns Obama a "very strong night" on the rating scale we laid out before the election.

2How many states won by Obama in 2008 does he lose to Mitt Romney in 2012 (not counting one electoral vote in Nebraska)?

Obama lost only two states he won in 2008 — Indiana and North Carolina. This qualifies as a "strong night for Obama."

3How many freshmen House Republicans facing competitive races this year do the Democrats oust?

This factor gauged how well the Democrats were able to challenge new members swept in during the 2010 GOP wave. As it turned out, 11 freshmen House Republicans lost their seats or appear headed to a loss: Charles Bass (N.H.), Ann Marie Buerkle (N.Y.), Quico Canseco (Texas), Chip Cravaack (Minn.), Robert Dold (Ill.), Frank Guinta (N.H.), Nan Hayworth (N.Y.), David Rivera (Fla.), Bobby Schilling (Ill.), Joe Walsh (Ill.), Allen West (Fla.). This qualifies as a "medium night for the Democrats" on our scale.

4How many incumbent House Democrats lose?

This factor measured how well the Democrats were able to defend their vulnerable incumbents. Not counting one California race that pitted two Democratic incumbents against each other, either six or seven Democratic incumbents lost or are trailing. They are Leonard Boswell (Iowa), Ron Barber (Ariz.), Ben Chandler (Ky.), Mark Critz (Pa.), Kathy Hochul (N.Y.), Larry Kissell (N.C.), and Betty Sutton (Ohio). This qualifies as a "medium night for the Democrats."

5 Cumulative percentage points by which GOP Senate candidates in competitive races exceed Romney's percentage of the vote in that state.

This factor gauges how successfully the GOP was able to recruit Senate candidates who did as well as or better than their presidential candidate in a given state. (Not included: Maine's three-way race.)

In only four states did the GOP Senate candidate outpoll Mitt Romney — Hawaii (+9), Massachusetts (+8), New Mexico (+2) and Connecticut (+2). In three others, the Senate candidate matched Romney's performance — Nevada, Virginia and Wisconsin. But in seven states, the Republican Senate candidate underperformed Romney in their state, often by wide margins — Indiana (-10), Montana (-10), North Dakota (-9), Florida (-7), Arizona (-5), Ohio (-3) and Pennsylvania (-2). Combined, these Senate candidates underperformed Romney by a cumulative 25 points. We had pegged any negative number as a "strong night for the Democrats."

6How many Democratic-held gubernatorial seats do the Republicans flip?

As expected, the GOP flipped the North Carolina governorship, but failed to take over the governorship of Montana and appear likely to fail to take over Washington state's as well — two seats they had been hoping to secure. This earns a "strong night for the Democrats."

7How large is the net partisan shift in the control of state legislative chambers?

Determining the control of state legislative chambers usually takes a little longer to sort out than other electoral contests do, but so far, the Democrats are well positioned to gain a net four chambers. That's right in the middle of our category "strong night for the Democrats."

8How large is the net partisan shift in the control of state attorneys general seats?

In state attorney general contests, the Democrats flipped the seat in Pennsylvania and appear likely to do the same in Washington state, while the GOP ousted an incumbent in West Virginia and took a Democratic-held open seat in Montana. The Democrats' takeover of the Maine Legislature gives them a chance to replace a GOP attorney general with a Democrat. This would add up to a net gain of one seat for the Democrats — a "strong night for the Democrats."

9In how many of the following ballot measures does the "liberal" side win?

The liberal side prevailed on same-sex marriage in Maine, Maryland and Minnesota; on immigration in Maryland; on labor issues in California, Idaho and South Dakota; and on abortion in Florida. It's also leading on same-sex marriage in Washington state. The conservative side prevailed on immigration in Montana, in Michigan on labor issues, and on abortion in Montana. With at least eight victories, it was a "strong night for liberals."

10How many incumbent Supreme Court judges in Florida and Iowa are retained for re-election after conservative opposition, and how many Democrats win Supreme Court judgeships in Michigan and North Carolina?

Liberals prevailed in all judicial four retention elections as well as winning one Supreme Court race in Michigan. But conservatives won two seats in Michigan and one in North Carolina. This rates as a "medium night" liberals and Democrats.

Putting it all together, Democrats or liberals had a "strong" or "very strong" night in seven of our 10 categories, and a "medium" night in the remaining three. All in all, it was a strong showing for the Democrats up and down the ballot.

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