Early in the evening on election night, nervous Democrats might have found solace in the fact that, even with all the advantages Republicans had going into the 2014 campaign – the conservative bent of midterm voters, gerrymandered House districts, a lopsided number of shaky Democratic U.S. Senate seats in play – most of the major races were too close to call. There seemed to be a real possibility those contests could fall their way.
That ray of hope disappeared as the night wore on. Almost all the tight races went to Republicans, and what had been predicted to be a bad night for Democrats turned into something approaching disaster.
Republicans took control of the Senate, not only winning nearly all of the most hotly contested races, but coming very close to stealing a seat in Virginia from Sen. Mark Warner that Democrats had considered a sure bet. Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell had a fabulous night; he crushed his Democratic opponent and went to bed facing the happy prospect of becoming the next majority leader in the Senate.
Republicans increased their numbers in the House of Representatives, building up such a commanding majority that it is unlikely to be undone for many election cycles to come. Democrats may hang on to the White House in the 2016 election, but the agenda of the next Democratic president will be blocked by a Republican House in 2017 and beyond.
Perhaps the worst news for Democrats was how badly they fared in governors' races in states where Democrats are not supposed to lose, places like Maryland and much of New England. One of the only bright spots for the D's was New Hampshire, where they were able to reelect both a governor and a senator.
When Barack Obama swept into office in 2008, he brought with him solid Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. Those numbers have dwindled through his six years as president and, after last night's rout, he must now be feeling like a general without an army. McConnell, on the other hand, should feel as smart as Caesar. He made good on his 2009 vow to oppose and defeat Obama at every turn, and that scorched-earth tactic paid off. Public disgust with a gridlocked government seems to have attached itself to Obama, not to McConnell and the Republicans, and voters have made the Democrats suffer for it.
In a gracious victory speech, McConnell reached out to the president and said, "We have a duty to get beyond conflict." His words were pretty, but conflict has paid off so well for McConnell and his party that it would be more than surprising if he suddenly began to seek common ground with the man he has spent six years portraying as the source of national ruin.