In recent weeks, the media have described today's election as a certain bloodbath for the Democratic Party. The results, however, look much more measured. As of 12:48am on the East Coast, it appears that the GOP will regain control of the House, but Democrats will maintain control -- although to a lesser degree -- of the Senate.
Several recent elections have brought about similar shifts in congressional power. In 1994, both the Senate and the House went to the GOP, along with many state governorships. In 2006, both chambers shifted to the Democrats. So, 2010 is actually a little better for the Democrats than recent election results.
Furthermore, historical data indicate that the president's party has performed poorly in midterm elections during most of modern US history. Also, considering the wretched state of the economy, the Democrats could have easily suffered from a complete loss of power in Congress. This, outcome, however, did not occur.
Needless to say, Democrats lost some tough races. Senator Russ Feingold -- probably the last remaining progressive in the Senate -- lost in Wisconsin. In Pennsylvania, Joe Sestak lost to Pat Toomey by a very narrow margin. Also, in Florida, Charlie Crist lost the Senate race to Marco Rubio. Even though Crist led the three-candidate race immediately after he abandoned the Republican Party, Kendrick Meek (a Democrat) managed to pull enough liberal votes away from Crist, which threw the election to Rubio.
In Nevada, however, Harry Reid has defeated Sharron Angle. Angle, who is probably best known for her comical efforts to escape the media, ran as an anti-government, anti-social security, anti-Department of Education, Tea Party candidate. Surprisingly, despite her obviously limited intellect, she kept the race tight until the very end. Reid, however, is very unpopular among voters. Nevertheless, he has won close elections in the past, and he benefits from labor union support, which gives him a massive "get out the vote" machine. Apparently, the machine worked -- despite massive voter discontent.
The media will probably craft an electoral narrative designed to create drama and to draw traffic to their web pages. Ultimately, however, the election tallies (as exit polls indicate) likely result from one simple factor: voters' feelings of vulnerability about the economy. This same vulnerability caused them to abandon Republicans, elect President Obama and expand Democratic control of Congress in 2008.
In 2008, I warned exuberant Democrats that the election results did not mean that the American electorate had become wildly liberal. Similarly, the results of today's election do not indicate that the country is wildly conservative. Instead, partisans have voted for their parties' candidates, while moderates and independents voted against many Democrats because they are afraid of the economy. If the economy picks up by 2012, the election should provide for some very interesting and close races.
I will try to add more analysis later today -- time permitting.