Feb. 13, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Mixed Message: Divided Nation Is Still Divided

Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images
Exit polling showed GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney improved on Sen. John McCain's 2008 showing among many groups, but he made no substantial inroads among blacks or Hispanics.

For Republicans, the picture should be pretty clear: The Democratic coalition is growing while the GOP base is shrinking. Just as important, key Democratic constituencies seem less vulnerable to defecting than do GOP-leaning groups.

In the Senate, for example, North Dakota voters gave Romney a 21-point victory, but many of those Romney voters chose Democrat Heidi Heitkamp in the state’s Senate race. 

In Utah, Romney carried the state by 48 points, yet voters in the solidly Republican 4th district re-elected Rep. Jim Matheson (D) over Republican Mia Love, who was regarded as a potential rock star in her party. And in Georgia, Democratic Rep. John Barrow survived comfortably in a Republican district.

Republicans were not so lucky on the other end of the spectrum. Two very moderate Republican House candidates in New England, Richard Tisei in Massachusetts and Andrew Roraback in Connecticut, lost narrowly, almost certainly because not enough Democratic voters split their tickets. Moderate Rep. Robert Dold (R-Ill.) couldn’t overcome redistricting and the heavy Obama vote in his district to win a second term.

New England clearly remains a black hole for the GOP. In addition to the losses by Tisei and Roraback in the House, Republicans lost both House seats in New Hampshire, the Granite State governorship, Scott Brown’s Senate seat in Massachusetts and retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe’s seat in Maine. 

They also came up short in their shot at what once looked like a very winnable Rhode Island Congressional district, and in Connecticut, Republican Linda McMahon once again received 43 percent of the vote, a sure sign of her ceiling in the state.

Democratic victories at the House level came disproportionately from New England and two states affected by redistricting: Illinois and California. 

In the Land of Lincoln, four GOP seats flipped to the Democrats, and Democrats held on to a vulnerable seat of their own. And in California, Democrats appear headed to defeat three Republican incumbents — Dan Lungren, Brian Bilbray and Mary Bono Mack — in addition to winning a tossup open seat and holding onto two potentially vulnerable incumbents. 

Elsewhere, the GOP more than held its own, including winning key Member-vs.-Member races in Ohio and Iowa, picking up redrawn districts held by Democratic Reps. Kathy Hochul (N.Y.) and Larry Kissell (N.C.) and by retiring Reps. Heath Shuler (N.C.) and Mike Ross (Ark.), and turning back formidable challenges against Republican Reps. Steve King (Iowa), Chris Gibson (N.Y.), Mike Coffman (Colo.) and Daniel Webster (Fla.).

While Democrats didn’t come close to winning back the House, that disappointment is more than offset by the president’s victory and the surprisingly strong showing by Democrats in the Senate.

The big question is now how the parties — both in Congress and in the grass roots — interpret the election results and what kind of leadership and approach the president will take on dealing with the economy and the budget. Dusting off the previously ignored Simpson-Bowles proposal might well be a good place to start.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

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