I had planned to write my election wrap-up in the days following the election. But because there were so many uncalled states and races, I did not have enough information to form any thoughts. Two weeks have now passed since the election, and it has given me lots of time to look through election results and digest the outcome of several key races. So, with that said, here are my thoughts on the most unprecedented election of our lifetimes.
I don’t need to tell any of you that this has been an incredibly challenging year for our country. This election has proved that we are, and continue to be, a very divided country. We witnessed the tragic deaths of people like George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, each of which were followed by demonstrations and protests in large cities across the country.
We are of course still in the midst of this devastating coronavirus pandemic. The United States is set to pass 250,000 deaths from COVID-19 this week, and cases are continuing to rise across the country as we speak. Despite the threat that this disease poses, Americans turned out to vote in numbers that we have never seen before. We have all spent a lot of time arguing and debating the results of the election, but we should all be inspired by the fact that so many Americans chose to exercise their right to vote during the worst pandemic of our lifetimes.
This country also lost a towering figure in the fight for voting rights. John Lewis took billy clubs to the head, shed blood, went to jail and almost died fighting for the right to vote. He always called the right to vote “the most powerful nonviolent tool that we have in a Democratic society.” I know that he would have been very proud to watch millions of hard-working Americans exercise their right to vote, especially during this pandemic.
THE PRESIDENTIAL RACE
The presidential election came down to a few thousand votes in several key states. But in the end, former Vice President Joe Biden prevailed over President Donald Trump in a bitter and hard-fought campaign. With his victory, California Sen. Kamala Harris is set to become the first female Vice President in U.S. history.
Biden pulled off a victory by reassembling the so-called “blue wall” of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. These three states were seen as crucial to Hillary Clinton’s path to the White House in 2016, but they each ended up voting for Trump by narrow margins. Biden also expanded the map to sunbelt states. Georgia last voted Democratic for President in 1992, but Biden pulled off a victory in the Peach State — a state that Democrats have long been optimistic about due to a growing and diversifying population in the metro Atlanta suburbs.
Biden was also victorious out in the Grand Canyon state. Arizona, home of the late Republican Sen. John McCain, last voted Democratic in 1996. Biden narrowly won the state’s 11 electoral votes by making inroads with suburban whites and older voters in the Phoenix area.
That’s not to say that Biden didn’t have any weaknesses. He had poor showings with Hispanics all across the country. In Florida, Miami-Dade County saw a huge swing to Trump. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the Sunshine State’s most populous county by a massive 30-point margin. But this time around, Biden only won the county by an underwhelming 7 percentage points. Some attribute this to Trump’s overall improvement with minorities, while others say that the Republican attacks against socialism resonated with voters in this heavily Cuban county.
It wasn’t just limited to Florida: Democrats had hoped to make a play for Texas, but they fell short in part because of Biden’s collapse in the heavily Hispanic Rio Grande Valley. Zapata County, located along the Mexico border, voted for Clinton 66%-33% in the 2016 election. But Trump won this small county 53%-47% this year. While it did vote for Trump, it continued to vote Democratic down the ballot. Overall, Trump improved his numbers with minorities across the board. But he lost re-election due to his underperformance with white voters.
Perhaps the biggest surprise on election night were the results in several competitive House races. Democrats went into the night hoping to expand on their majority, but they ended up having a net loss. As of predawn on Tuesday, November 17, the New York Times projected that Republicans would have a net gain of at least 9 seats, with about a dozen races remaining to be called.
Miami-Dade County, Florida saw a huge swing to Republicans at the presidential level, and that swing trickled down the ballot. In Florida’s 27th District, Democrat Donna Shalala, a former Health & Human Services Secretary who flipped this open seat in 2018, lost re-election in a rematch with Republican Maria Elvira Salazar. In the neighboring 26th District, Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell lost her bid for a second term to Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez (R).
The Blue Dog Coalition lost quite a few members in this election. Longtime Rep. Collin Peterson, a conservative Democrat who chaired the Agriculture Committee, represented Minnesota’s rural 7th District since 1991. He lost re-election in his Republican-trending district to former Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach (R). In Oklahoma’s 5th District, which is based in Oklahoma City, Democrat Kendra Horn failed to capture a second term after pulling off a stunning upset in 2018. In South Carolina’s 1st District, which covers most of the state’s coastline, Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham was defeated by Republican State Rep. Nancy Mace. Cunningham, an ocean engineer, flipped this coastal district in 2018 after Republican Rep. Mark Sanford was defeated in his primary. New Mexico’s 2nd District, which covers the southern portion of the state, saw Republican Yvette Herrell defeat Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small in what was a rematch from 2018. New York’s Staten Island-based 11th District also flipped back to the Republicans. Democratic Rep. Max Rose lost his seat to Republican State Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis.
Another big stunner unfolded in our nation’s heartland. In Iowa’s 1st District, Democrat Abby Finkenauer, who was one of the youngest members of the 2018 freshman class, lost re-election to Republican State Rep. Ashley Hinson. The 31-year-old Finkenauer, a former State Representative herself, had been seen as a rising star in her party after flipping this Obama/Trump district from red to blue in the 2018 midterm elections. Republicans also scored a surprise victory in Utah. Democrat Ben McAdams, who represented the 4th District, conceded to Republican challenger Burgess Owens on Monday as final results showed him trailing Owens by about 2,000 votes. Owens, a former NFL player, was a frequent guest on Fox News and will be one of two African-American men in the House Republican caucus starting in January, along with Byron Donalds in Florida. Republicans also flipped two of the seats in Orange County, California that they lost in 2018.
Some races have not been called yet, but Democrats have only flipped three seats in the House as of Tuesday morning, two of which were because of redistricting. In Georgia, Democrats flipped the suburban 7th District after coming surprisingly close to flipping it two years ago. In North Carolina, they flipped two newly redrawn districts after the State Supreme Court forced a redraw of the state’s congressional boundaries. They targeted around half a dozen Republican-held seats in Texas but failed to flip a single one.
The House was a pretty disappointing result for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who had hoped to build on the majority that she captured in the 2018 midterms. Facing a single-digit majority, she will have no room for error when the House elects a Speaker at the start of the new Congress. She has already announced her intentions to run again, but some members of her caucus have said that they will not be voting for her. If a recent caucus call was any indication, there could be a lot of drama within the Democratic caucus as January nears.
Democrats also failed to capture the majority in the U.S. Senate outright in this month’s election, falling short in some of the most competitive races on the map. Perhaps the biggest shocker on the Senate map was Maine. State House Speaker Sara Gideon (D), who raised millions of dollars and led in every publicly released poll of the race, failed to topple longtime Republican Sen. Susan Collins. Democratic activists and donors grew frustrated with Collins after she voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in 2018.
In North Carolina, first-term Republican Sen. Thom Tillis narrowly won re-election over former State Sen. Cal Cunningham (D), who found himself caught in a controversy in the closing weeks of the campaign after he admitted to exchanging romantic text messages to a woman who was not his wife. In Iowa, Democrats had high hopes for real estate executive Theresa Greenfield, but she ultimately lost to Republican Sen. Joni Ernst by about 7 points.
Democrats also unsuccessfully tried to expand the map to traditionally red states. In South Carolina, former state Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison shattered fundraising records in his bid against Lindsey Graham, but he lost by nearly 10 points. In Kansas, State Sen. Barbara Bollier, a former Republican who switched parties in 2018, was viewed as the best Democrat to run for Senate in Kansas in a very long time, but she ended up getting roughly the same percentage of the vote as Biden. In Alaska, Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan fended off a strong challenge from orthopedic surgeon Al Gross, an Independent who was allowed to run in the Democratic primary under Alaska law. In Montana, Gov. Steve Bullock (D) was seen as a top-tier candidate against Republican Sen. Steve Daines, but he ended up losing by 10 percentage points despite raising record amounts of money. In Texas, Republican Sen. John Cornyn easily fended off a challenge from Air Force Veteran M.J. Hegar (D), who unsuccessfully ran for a seat in the U.S. House in 2018.
In terms of the races that changed parties, Democrats have so far flipped two seats and Republicans have flipped one. Alabama was long seen as an easy flip for Republicans. Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, who defeated embattled Republican candidate Roy Moore in a 2017 special election, was seen by both parties as the most vulnerable Senator on the map. He was handily defeated by Republican Tommy Tuberville, a former football coach at Auburn University. In Arizona, retired astronaut Mark Kelly (D), the husband of former Rep. Gabby Giffords, ousted Sen. Martha McSally (R), who was appointed to the late Sen. John McCain’s seat in 2018 following her loss to Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D) in the race for the state’s other Senate seat. In Colorado, Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, who was seen as the most vulnerable Republican Senator, lost re-election to former Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), who entered the race in late 2019 after an unsuccessful presidential campaign. Republicans also came surprisingly close in Michigan — Democratic Sen. Gary Peters narrowly held off Republican John James, who unsuccessfully ran against Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) in 2018.
Control of the Senate will not be known until January 5, 2021. On that day, Georgia will hold two runoff elections for both of its Senate seats. In the regular election, Sen. David Perdue (R) finds himself in a runoff with Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff after failing to clear 50% of the vote in this month’s election. In the special election, appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R) and Ebenezer Baptist Church Pastor Raphael Warnock (D) are competing to serve out the remainder of Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term. If Democrats win both races, it would form a 50/50 tie in the Senate, in which Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would be tasked with casting the tie-breaking vote. If Republicans hold onto both seats, they will maintain control of the Senate for the first two years of the Biden administration.
My biggest takeaway from this election is that voters are fed up with President Trump, but that did not stop them from voting for Republicans down-ballot. Voters wanted a divided government to steer our country out of this pandemic, so they voted for Biden and congressional Republicans. Both public and private polling pointed to a down-ballot landslide for Democrats, but that did not happen at all. Going forward, I would not be surprised if both parties spent less money on polling.
It’s anyone’s guess as to what will happen going forward, as we live in very uncertain times. Some could say that this election left us with more questions than answers: Will Biden get the cabinet he wants with a Republican Senate? Will he be able to pass major legislation? Will Democrats be able to win both Georgia runoff elections? Will Pelosi secure another term as Speaker with such a narrow House majority? We will have to wait and see.
In conclusion, I want to thank all of you for following my coverage of the 2020 election for the last few months. I had a really great time analyzing polling, making maps of election results and interacting with lots of great people. I never expected so many people to begin relying on me for information and news on the election. The friendships that I have formed during this campaign will last for years to come. While the election may be over, I see it as the beginning of a new and exciting chapter in my life. I had a lot of fun covering it and I also saw it as a great learning experience. I look forward to analyzing the Georgia runoff elections, as well as future elections down the road. Thanks again for everything, and see you on Twitter!