Wednesday, November 5, 2014


The first hint, for me, that the night would not go according to plan was right at 7 PM EST, with the very first projection of the night:  Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell, the soon-to-be-crowned Senate Majority Leader.  It was not at all surprising McConnell would win – I had moved him into the “Solid R” column a week before.  But the most recent polls had him ahead in the +6-7 point range, which to my mind meant we would have to get into the evening a bit before CNN would call it.  But they called it right away, and sure enough, McConnell eventually won by 15%.  Thus the pattern was set, with the GOP consistently blowing past the polls, turning toss-ups into easy wins, and putting solid Democratic races into play.

The next alarm was Virginia, a race that was “Solid D” from beginning to end, with virtually all polls in double digits for Democrat incumbent Mark Warner.  Yet old hand Ed Gillespie was ahead for most of the night, and the race was on as to whether Warner had enough votes left in late-reporting Fairfax County to overcome the gap.  If you did the math, CNN’s exit polling seemed to indicate he would.  But it was a nail-biter watching that gap close:  +58,000 for Gillespie at 8:42 PM EST, up to 81,000 by about 9:00, then down to 24,000 by 9:33 before Warner finally squeaked ahead by 3,000 at 10:28.  It still has not been called.

This was indeed a “wave,” and you could feel it surging across America throughout the evening.  Having said that, at the time Warner took his lead at 10:28, I was 26 for 26 (out of 36 Senate races) and the most positive possible outcome for Democrats – wake up with a 49-49 tie and push the battle for control into the two run-off states – was still plausible.

But then the hammer came down.  There would not BE two run-off races. Michelle Nunn of Georgia was not going to get another day in January, she instead lost right then, at 10:40, when CNN reckoned that not only would David Perdue win, but with at least the “50% plus one” level required to avoid a run off (as of now he is leading 52%-45%).  The Democrats’ hopes of holding the Senate were over, just like that.

And it got worse.  I had anticipated Mark Udall’s Colorado loss, but I had not foreseen Kay Hagan losing her small lead in North Carolina, never to regain it, nor Greg Orman turning out to be more a mirage than a miracle in Kansas.  The North Carolina loss pushed the GOP to 51, then Iowa fell (as expected) to make it 52, which is where we sit now, waiting to see if Alaska makes it 53 and, in December, if the Louisiana runoff makes it 54.

I was wrong on three races out of 36 – North Carolina and Kansas flat out, and Georgia in expecting a runoff (which I believed, ultimately, Nunn would lose).  And I may still be wrong on Alaska.  All four races were “toss-ups” and in a year when the late GOP wave crashed over the Democrats, those tight calls never had a chance.

Somehow Jeanne Shaheen held on to win in New Hampshire but out of eight “toss-up” races, that was the only one the Democrats held (barring a last-minute turnaround in Alaska).

The pundits are already dissecting the Democrat’s election day horror show, with the narrative flowing somewhere between a total repudiation of President Obama to a mid-term aberration that will correct itself with a huge Democratic turnout in 2016.  The truth, of course, lies somewhere in the middle.

But the pollsters --  and us forecasters (who are basically poll aggregators) -- have a lotta ‘splaining to do, as Ricky Ricardo might say.  How could they miss that wave?  I’ll be back soon with my own post-mortem on the debacle.

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