Let's try to put some metrics on last Tuesday's historic election. Two years ago, the popular vote for House of Representatives was 54 percent Democratic and 43 percent Republican. That may sound close, but in historic perspective it's a landslide. Democrats didn't win the House popular vote in the South, as they did from the 1870s up through 1992. But they won a larger percentage in the 36 non-Southern states than -- well, as far as I can tell, than ever before.
This year, we don't yet know the House popular vote down to the last digit, partly because California takes five weeks these days to count all its votes (Brazil, which voted last Sunday, counted its votes in less than five hours). But the exit poll had it at 52 percent Republican and 46 percent Democratic, which is probably within a point or so of the final number.
That's similar to 1994, and you have to go back to 1946 and 1928 to find years when Republicans did better. And the numbers those years aren't commensurate, since the then-segregated and Democratic South cast few popular votes. So you could argue that this is the best Republican showing ever.
Nationally, Republicans narrowly missed winning Senate seats in heavily Democratic Washington and in Nevada and California, where less problematic nominees might have won. As in all wave years, they missed winning half a dozen House seats by a whisker (or a suddenly discovered bunch of ballots).
But they made really sweeping gains in state legislatures, where candidate quality makes less difference. According to the National Conference on State Legislatures, Republicans gained about 125 seats in state senates and 550 seats in state houses -- 675 seats in total. That gives them more seats than they've won in any year since 1928.
Republicans snatched control of about 20 legislative houses from Democrats -- and by margins that hardly any political insiders expected. Republicans needed five seats for a majority in the Pennsylvania House and won 15; they needed four seats in the Ohio House and got 13; they needed 13 in the Michigan House and got 20; they needed two in the Wisconsin Senate and four in the Wisconsin House, and gained four and 14; they needed five in the North Carolina Senate and nine in the North Carolina House and gained 11 and 15.