So that was about as bad as it could possibly be for Democrats--and absent the Tea Party, it probably would have been even worse, with the GOP likely holding the Senate, or close enough that flipping Nelson or Lieberman became a real possibility. I actually think the Tea Party probably did the GOP a favor--they're better off without the responsibility for governing in the face of resistance from a Democratic president. But I doubt that, say, the Nevada Republican Party feels this way right now.
Lots of Democrats, including me, have been pointing out that structural factors alone predicted a 45-seat loss in the House this year. In other words, the bulk of the expected Democratic losses weren't due to healthcare reform or Obama's remoteness or liberal overreach or anything like that. It was baked into the cake all along.
But the model I wrote about, which comes from Douglas Hibbs, only predicted a 45-seat loss, and it looks like Dems are likely to lose at least 60 seats. That means Democrats underperformed the Hibbs model by 15 seats or so, which is a record for them. (See chart below.) They've underperformed by ten seats a couple of times in the postwar era, but never by more than that. So at the same time that it's correct to blame most of their losses on structural factors, it's also correct that this was something of a historically bad result. I think it might be fair to say that the economy is so epically bad that Hibbs's model might not account for it entirely, but that's mostly special pleading. It really does look like there's a fair amount of scope to place a lot of the blame for tonight's Democratic debacle on both tactical and policy missteps.
As DNC Chairman Tim Kaine explained, a GOP takeover of the House may be "a message from the American public." But it's not a rebuke of Democratic policies, he suggested. It's a message about the need for bipartisan cooperation--that "everybody's gotta work together."
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