In the midst of a resounding national rebuke at all levels of government, the Democrats have been taking some solace in having held the Senate. But to put the Republicans' Senate gains this week into perspective, Republicans won an even higher percentage of Senate races than House races (they won 65 percent of the 37 Senate races, versus approximately 56 percent of the 435 House races). And, counting Lisa Murkowski as still being a Republican (a spokesman for her campaign says the Alaskan would caucus with the GOP if she beats Joe Miller in their still-undecided race), there have been only two elections since 1950 in which Republicans have gained more Senate seats than the six they gained in 2010. One of those elections was in 1980, when voters swept Ronald Reagan into the White House. The second was in 1994, in response to the Democrats' ill-advised attempts to pass Hillarycare. So while the Republicans' gains in the House – surpassing those of 1994 and likely doubling those of 1980 – are more historic and important, the GOP's Senate pickups in 2010 aren't too shabby either.
In light of this, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) comes off as missing the point when he complains about Republicans not having taken control of the Senate and when he largely blames Sen. Jim DeMint (R., S.C.) for that result. DeMint raised $7 million for GOP Senate candidates, more than any other Republican senator, which helped Ron Johnson (R., Wisc.), Pat Toomey (R., Pa.), Rand Paul (R., Ky.), and Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) get elected.
You can't have the enthusiasm and adherence to principle that the Tea Party brings without also having Tea Party voters influence the primaries, and if a Christine O'Donnell is the occasional result, so be it. Does Graham really think that the Republicans would have won something on the order of 245 House seats without the very influence he's implicitly criticizing? The Republicans owe their tremendous electoral success this time around much more to the likes of DeMint than to the likes of Graham.
With all of that said, polls had suggested that Republicans might win even more Senate races, and some people had incorrectly predicted this result. But the turnout margins between the Democrats and Republicans in many of the closest Senate races favored the Democrats to a greater extent than expected. In fact, exit polling suggests that, while each party had an equal share of the national turnout – just like in 2004 – that distribution varied wildly across states. Democratic turnout was better in most of the states with the closest Senate races than it was nationally, and that was especially true in the Western states.
Amazingly, according to exit polling in Colorado, California, and Washington, the Democrats actually enjoyed larger turnout advantages in those three states than they did even in 2008, despite the fact that national turnout shifted 7 percentage points toward the GOP from that election to this one. That turnout advantage allowed, for example, Democratic incumbent Patty Murray to beat Republican challenger Dino Rossi despite losing (according to exit polling) by nearly 20 points among independents and winning less than 5 percent of the Republican vote. Turnout in Colorado actually swung from +1 GOP in 2008 to +5 Democratic in 2010, a 6-point move that's 13 points at odds with the national flow in this election. One can only wonder whether the absence of a viable GOP gubernatorial candidate suppressed Republican turnout in that state.
So in the states with the most closely contested Senate races, the Democrats clearly showed up to vote. This is a welcome reminder that the Democrats won't simply roll over and die in 2012. Republicans need to maintain their strong lead among independents, which they can do with bold, yet prudent – principled, yet patient – leadership. Their message of fiscal responsibility and limited government is in step with the mood and the views of the citizenry. Now they must follow through in action.
According to exit polling, independents went for Republicans in this election by the colossal margin of 56 to 38 percent. That 18-point margin is 10 points bigger than the margin by which independents went for Democrats in 2008. According to Rasmussen's final pre-election survey, this tally of 56 percent also reflects the percentage of independents who "strongly favor" the repeal of Obamacare. (Only 19 percent of independents said they "strongly oppose" repeal.) In other words, Republicans' opposition to Obamacare is not only crucial for the country, it's also perhaps the key reason why independents – and thus a majority of Americans – have currently aligned themselves with the Republican Party.