The big headlines were clear well before midnight: Republicans were retaking the House, while Democrats would hold the Senate. The big questions — what will President Obama do now, and how far to the right will the Tea Party drag Speaker-to-be John Boehner and the rest of the caucus — will be picked over endlessly over the next few days. But beyond the broad themes, a number of small truths emerged. Herewith, our running list of what we learned at the midterms:
—Loony, Ego-Driven Candidates Give Loony, Ego-Driven ‘Concession’ Speeches. In Delaware, Christine O’Donnell declared “we have won” (despite losing by double digits), made demands of victor Chris Coons, then told the crowd it was party time: “We’ve got a lot of food. We’ve got the room all night.” Meanwhile in New York, Carl Paladino offered Andrew Cuomo a choice: he could either accept the baseball bat he was holding (and use it to take the wood to Albany), or be beaten with it, presumably by Paladino himself.
—Experience Still Counts. In this insurgent year, many of GOP freshmen charged with “taking our government back” turn out to be…veteran office holders. And in California, where an actor turned novice politician has become a deeply unpopular governor, two seemingly strong female candidates without track record of governing spent hundreds of millions to lose to a pair of grizzled Democrats.
—John Boehner is a crier! Actually, this was no secret. Still, it was sort of amazing to see the waterworks come on, and come on strong, during what was in many ways his big national debut.
—Harry Reid is Lazarus. Or, to use John Kerry’s other line, he’s Dracula. Which brings us to another thing we learned at the midterms: Mastery of the quip continues to elude John Kerry, about as much as it does Harry Reid.
—The ‘lamestream’ media still matters. Because it helps make voters uneasy about extreme candidates, who only look more extreme when they then duck their state’s newspapers. Exhibit A: Sharron Angle.
—The Nader effect lives! Just ask Illinois Democrat Alexi Giannoulis, who lost to Mark Kirk by just under 80,000 votes – in a race where Green Party candidate LeAnn Jones collected more than 114,000 ballots.
—A hard-line stance on immigration isn’t the winning position some GOP candidates and their consultants seem to think it is. Just ask Angle, Carly Fiorina, and Tom Tancredo.
—The polls predicting big gains for Republicans were, in the end, pretty on-target. One reason for skepticism/source of wild optimism heading into election night was the fact that some surveys include only landlines – and therefore miss the swath of young, urban and minority voters who have only cell phones. But as the actual results rolled in, Republican gains in the House, and Democratic retention in the Senate, amounted to what Nate Silver aptly described as an “orderly wave.”