The massive gains made nationally by Republicans in 2010 differed from those in 1994 in several ways.
In 2010, the Democrats saw it coming and contained losses as well as they could. That the losses were greater at almost all levels does not mean that Democrats didn’t do an excellent job of keeping those losses from being much bigger.
The biggest area for GOP gains was in the heartland, starting in Pennsylvania and ending around the Mississippi, with sporadic victories scattered from there. The GOP had smaller gains in both the Northeast and Far West. The South and other parts of the West were already heavily GOP, and gains were smaller by comparison.
A major difference over the last 16 years was the large increase in at-home voting. It is no longer necessary to haul marginal voters to the polls. Get an early ballot request, or, better, put them on a permanent list and then drop by to make sure the ballot gets filled out and delivered. That clearly requires a large work force of volunteers or paid workers. Democrats were effective in matching increased Republican enthusiasm with a bigger street force, and tighter voter identification, particularly in the West, where at-home voting is in vogue.
Besides accruing to those with the most money and auxiliaries (public employee unions come to mind), the large increase in at-home voting is responsible for the agonizingly slow counts while all the ballots that came in on Election Day are run through the complex process currently mandated.
In most wave elections, the close ones go to the side of the wave. That did not happen in 2010, proving once more that a precedent is not a principle.
2010 was not, as some Democrat pundits still believe, an “anti-incumbent” election. It was clearly anti-Democrat, proving that too many Democrat-leaning pundits are in denial.
It also wasn’t a pro-Republican election. Americans have rejected much of the leftist agenda. They are now giving the GOP a chance to present an alternative. The next election will be won not only over the conflicting substance of those agendas, but in their presentation. As President Obama has yet to learn, both are required.
Republicans and conservatives gained much for future recruitment and should be able to field a higher quality of candidate in 2012. Many voters choose beyond party and ideology. Quality Tea Party candidates like Marco Rubio in Florida and Rand Paul in Kentucky won big, flakes like Christine O’Donnell in Delaware didn’t.
The GOP may get up off the couch now in places it hasn’t, like Delaware, where the party was so moribund that O’Donnell was actually their nominee in the last two Senate elections. Delaware is also the only state to lose an incumbent Republican state senator in 2010.
District 26 has finally demonstrably proven that you don’t need to be a moderate Republican to win. For years, northern Pima County with few exceptions sent a variety of centrists and liberals north based on the eroding myth that it was all that could be elected. The myth even spread to neighboring District 25.
District 26 just returned conservative Sen. Al Melvin by over 6,000 votes, up from 2,000 last time. On the House side, Conservative Terri Proud lead the ticket and not only knocked off Democrat Nancy Young Wright, but ran 2,000 votes ahead of sometimes conservative incumbent Republican Vic Williams. In District 25, all three seats were taken by conservatives by even greater margins.
This happened for three reasons. More conservatives moved in, many existing Republicans and most independents moved to the right, and Democrats moved to the left.