A couple of election night observations on Senate races:
Deja vu all over again. Watching the returns coming in from Florida in 2018 was very much like watching the returns coming in from Florida in 2016. In the 8 p.m. ET hour Democrats led, with big margins of initial returns from big counties in south Florida. Democratic three-term Sen. Bill Nelson and Democratic gubnernatorial nominee Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum (with help from adulatory press coverage) had led in most recent polls, and so their leads as the votes came in seemed unsurprising, as did Hillary Clinton’s early tabulated vote lead in the early returns from Florida in 2016.
But as votes kept being tabulated, in 2018 as in 2016, the Democratic leads grew smaller and then disappeared. The big counties — trends in south Florida and in the Interstate 4 corridor — turned out to be not indicative of trends in the smaller counties. By some time in the 9 p.m. ET hour (I wasn’t checking on my watch) it seemed that Trump was going to win the state’s 29 electoral votes in 2016, and similarly it seemed that Gov. Rick Scott was going to beat Nelson and that former (recently resigned) Rep. Ron DeSantis was going to beat Gillum. Which indeed is what happened. A state that voted for Barack Obama by a 1 percent margin in 2012, and voted for Donald Trump by a 1 percent margin in 2016, voted Republican for senator and governor by a 1 percent margin in 2018.
Not spending a penny more than necessary. By the way, Rick Scott has spent something over $200 million of his own money on his three statewide races, for governor in 2010 and 2014 and senator in 2018, and has won each by 1 percent of the vote. It brings to mind John F. Kennedy’s response, when asked about the narrow margin of his victory in 1960, quoting his father saying, “I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay for a landslide.”
The Kavanaugh effect. Numerous commentators on Fox News have noted that four Democratic senators who voted against confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court — Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, and Bill Nelson of Florida — were defeated for re-election. This is an example, I think, of the strong solidarity of Democratic senators, which has been noticeably greater than that of Republican senators over the last couple of decades, even in the face of serious political risk. One might argue that Nelson wasn’t taking such a risk, but obviously Heitkamp, McCaskill, and Donnelly were. And perhaps Jon Tester of Montana too, who as I write is narrowly trailing Republican Matt Rosendale.
West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, the only Democratic senator who voted for Kavanaugh, ended up winning only narrowly.
The parties switch collars. One of the largely untold stories of this cycle of Senate elections is the late surge of support in Michigan for Republican John James against three-term Sen. Debbie Stabenow. Note that James carried heavily blue-collar Bay and Saginaw Counties and ran virtually even in Macomb County, whose northeastern Detroit suburbs are not as heavily blue-collar as reputed, but still are less heavily college-educated than next-door Oakland County. There, James lost by 12 points.
This is a huge reversal of the Michigan when I grew up, in which blue-collar workers were heavily Democratic and white-collar workers heavily Republican.
More thoughts to come.
Washington Examiner · by Michael Barone · November 7, 2018