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Tipsheet

Last Night Was Incredibly Disappointing for Republicans. Here's What We Can Learn.

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

We'll get to Florida in a moment, but first thing's first: Tuesday was, broadly speaking, a debacle for Republicans. Facing historically favorable "fundamentals" – including a frustrated and dissatisfied electorate, bad inflation, an unpopular Democratic president, and polling leads on the top issues – the GOP did not achieve a red wave. It wasn't even much of a red ripple. It was, astoundingly, something of a status quo election, in a number of key respects. As of this writing, not a single statewide incumbent (senator or governor) has been defeated, from either party, anywhere in the country. Voters collectively looked at the current situation in the country, with which they're overwhelmingly dissatisfied, and decided to more or less hit the pause button. A tiny fraction of seats changed hands, including in the House. It looks like Republicans might control (or nominally control) a small House majority when the dust settles. And at best, they'll control a razor-thin Senate majority; they could also lose a net seat in the upper chamber. We'll know once the vote tabulation ends in Arizona and Nevada – and after an exhausting slog of another Georgia run-off.

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My predictions, while not as exuberant for Republicans as some commentators and analysts (and replete with requisite caveats), were still too bullish for the GOP. There were significant polling misses all over the map last night, benefitting each party in different places. Democrats clearly over-performed a lot of the polling in states like New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere. Conversely, Republicans hit their marks or blew out expectations in other races. Sitting GOP governors, in particular, crushed it. There's a lot of dissonance in the results. If you'd told me that statewide Republicans would achieve what they did in Florida (more on that to come), that Brian Kemp would win by eight points in Georgia (what a feat he pulled off, considering what was thrown at him over the last two years), that Greg Abbott would cruise to a decisive double-digit victory in Texas, and that Kathy Hochul would only win by six points in New York, I would have confidently extrapolated that something of a red wave would materialize across the country. It did not. 

Democrats may argue that their "threat to democracy" messaging worked, blunting Republican advantages on the economy and crime. I'll note that their incredibly cynical strategy of spending many millions to boost fringe or "election denier" candidates in GOP primaries seems to have been very electorally successful. Republican voters might consider not giving Democrats what they ask for in the future, and paying less attention to the advice of people who recommend poor candidates. They'll also point to the abortion issue as helping them, which it likely did in some races, although a slew of Republican governors who've signed significant abortion restrictions into law were lopsidedly re-elected, including in non-crimson-red states. "Democracy" and abortion were not top voter concerns, per the exits. According to the Fox News voter analysis – a modernized version of exit polling – the economy was the top concern of voters, by far. A majority blamed the Biden administration's policies for inflation. Biden's disapproval rating among the electorate was 57 percent. Three-quarters of respondents said they were unhappy with the direction of the country. And yet, voters did not decisively rush into the open arms of the opposition party. That's a serious indictment, and the opposition party ought to very carefully consider why that happened. Voters weren't eager to further empower Democrats either, of course. And so, in an extremely divided country, a new stalemate is upon us.

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While the broad election result is certainly surprising, especially compared to expectations, there were very few big shocks in individual races over the course of the night. One major exception, perhaps, was Florida. That the state went red is hardly a surprise, of course. A "Biblical" GOP win was staring at us in the face for days, via the data. In fact, Florida's data and trajectories were so good, some observers may have incorrectly transposed that environment onto larger swaths of the country and other races. I'm certainly guilty of that, to some extent. I'm also guilty of vastly underestimating the extent of Florida Republicans' absolute destruction of Democrats in the state. Late in the campaign, I finally started to believe that a DeSantis win of 12 points, and a Rubio win of 10 points, was plausible. The senator won re-election by roughly 17 points. The governor was re-elected by nearly 20 points. Twenty. It is difficult to put into words how astonishing those outcomes are.

A few pieces of data, for context: Hillary Clinton carried Miami-Dade County by 30 points in 2016. Two years later, Ron DeSantis lost it by 20 points, while winning statewide by less than one-half of one percent. This year, DeSantis won Miami-Dade by 11 points. Joe Biden won Osceola County in Central Florida – home to a huge Hispanic population, including many Puerto Ricans – by double digits just two years ago. DeSantis flipped it, winning by seven points there. The governor also won...true blue Palm Beach County outright, by three points. The coattails at the top of the ticket, plus DeSantis' redistricting plan, helped House Republicans make precious gains. Without Florida, a profoundly underwhelming and concerning night for the national GOP could well have been a full-blown disaster. If DeSantis throws his hat in the presidential ring for 2024, he's got quite a story to tell voters – including the fact that he trounced Trump's margin there. Trump managed a three-point victory over Joe Biden in Florida in 2020, en route to a national loss. DeSantis beat that in-state margin by 6x, and approximately 17 percentage points. Unfathomable. 

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The 2024-related recriminations have already begun, and understandably so. I'll weigh in on that topic at some point, but I'll leave it to others for now. Finally, on a night that Republicans underwhelmed virtually all expectations, while also making inroads with Hispanic voters, I'll leave you with this: 

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