The 2012 election results were an eloquent response to the shellacking the Democrats suffered in the 2010 midterm elections. In terms of response to the legislative miasma that followed, and to the political challenge which the Republican resurgence presented, the needle on the political meter shifted back toward the historic 2008 result.
Which is not to say that all was restored. In voting for the House of Representatives, Democrats nationally had a small advantage, but the net result of the redistricting after 2010 and the census that year gave the Republicans a structural advantage in this election. Seven races remain undecided at this point, but the results indicate the final Republican advantage will be 235-200, a pickup of seven seats nationally for the Democrats, but far short of the objective.
In the Senate, it was the Republicans who fell short. Presented with a golden opportunity to reclaim control, the Republicans failed to capture Democratic seats in 22 of 23 seats (Nebraska was their only pickup), while the Democrats gained in 3 of 10 (Massachusetts, Indiana, and--if the independent Senator-elect Angus King follows expectation--Maine). Instead of gaining the 3-4 seats that they needed, the Republicans lost two. Tea party extremist positions cost them in Missouri and Indiana, but that was not universally the case: more moderate Republicans went down to defeat in Massachusetts and Wisconsin. Montana was perhaps the most striking result, as a mainstream (that is to say, a conservative establishment) Republican lost narrowly to the incumbent moderate Democrat.
In the main event, the Democrats had the better candidate, better execution of its strategy, and President Obama obtained a surprisingly clear victory. After 2008, I declared the Obama campaign to be the best in the history of electoral politics; if anything, this year's accomplishment was even more impressive. The key successes of the Obama campaign were as follows: 1) Spending money early and successfully defining Romney as an out-of-touch elitist; 2) Identifying a rich crop of new supporters and getting them to turn out on election day; and 3) Tactics in the swing states, which ensured the Electoral College victory.
I am most impressed by 3), as the Obama-Biden ticket won all of the nine swing states except North Carolina and, of those identified as crucial for the shortest route to the winning 270 electoral votes, all were won by several points. The four closest states (besides the 2-point win for Romney in NC) were Florida, 1 point; Ohio, 2 points; Virginia, 3 points; and Colorado, 4.5 points. Much was made of Ohio, and in the event, it was the call for Ohio which put Obama over the top, but actually the tipping point state --the closest state which Obama needed to win--was Colorado: even if Obama had lost Ohio, Florida, and Virginia, with Colorado he would have had 272 electoral votes. The other swing states were all won more easily, 5-6 point margins; that was quite an accomplishment.
The Republicans' many deficiencies were evident--the three largest were their failures to appeal to women and to Latinos, and a totally wrong-headed strategy to try to suppress votes in the swing states. Suppression totally backfired--they were defeated in every court case, and the effort backfired and got many additional African-Americans to show up, stand in line for whatever time was needed, and vote for Obama. In retrospect, I don't think Romney was that bad of a candidate for them--all of his competitors in the primaries were far worse in terms of their potential in a general election--though his campaign direction was not so good. Romney's Etch-a-Sketch approach to rewriting his positions in the latter stages of the campaign actually worked fairly well with low-information ndependents, who were somehow convinced by his moderate-sounding positions in the debates after much more radical positions in the primary. He suffered a little from conveying a general, and accurate, impression of untrustworthiness, of being an empty suit--what did he really believe?--but it didn't hurt him much with the party base at the end, as they had nowhere else to go.
At the end of the day, the Republicans and their supporters spent an incredible amount of money unwisely. That is encouraging on the one hand (more money does not equal victory), but, on the other, may make it harder to convince the public that this campaign financing system is unworkable.
First Look at 2016
For the Democrats, it will be Hillary Clinton's nomination if she wants it. She says she doesn't, but that kind of opportunity is hard to resist, particularly for someone who has tried for the golden ring in the past. If she doesn't run, it will probably be between Biden (who will be 73) and Gov. Cuomo of New York; I like Cuomo's chances in that race, as Democrats will want to continue the momentum of attracting post-Boomers and millennials, and Cuomo has been a successful governor.
For the Republicans, Chris Christie of New Jersey is one that many fancy, but I do not: the Republicans will not forgive his cozying up to Obama in the last days of the campaign on the relief effort, after Superstorm Sandy, and it will raise cynics' impression that Christie was already playing for '16 and was not a team player. I think they will be looking to change from both the establishment, Bushite candidates and the Tea Party-inflections of the past couple of years. I see Marco Rubio as the favorite, if personal issues with his past do not end up disqualifying him. Paul Ryan could be an effective challenger to Rubio, in a primary campaign which could be a huge improvement over this year's dismaying show.