Editor's note: The hotly contested campaign for the midterm elections is over. As the results come in, CNN's political contributors share their quick thoughts on what's making news.
Avlon: A victory for checks and balances
So far, the election isn't quite the far-right stampede it was supposed to be. Sen. Michael Bennet in Colorado and Rep. Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania were putting on strong showings in their Senate races; Independent gubernatorial candidates Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island and Eliot Cutler in Maine were also hanging tough.
This election is not -- and was never -- an outright endorsement of the GOP. It is about independents swinging against unified Democratic control of Washington.
There's also a lot of evidence of ticket splitting this year; look at the GOP's Tom Corbett sailing into the governorship in Pennsylvania, but Pat Toomey trailing his total. In Oregon, Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden was returned to office, but GOP candidate (and former NBA star) Chris Dudley was also elected. This is happening across the country: Voters want the checks and balances but aren't willing to straight-ticket vote if one of the candidates is on the extremes. This is about trying to re-balance government, not empower a new ideological movement.
It's a victory for the founding fathers' vision of checks and balances.
John P. Avlon is a CNN contributor, senior political columnist for The Daily Beast, and author of "Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America."
Bennett: Vice President Rubio in 2013
Tuesday was a great night for Republicans because as Marco Rubio said, we now have a second chance. It's still important to remember this country is not quite yet a Republican country, but as of Tuesday night it is saying it is most definitely not a Democratic Party country either.
Let us celebrate, but then let us get to work, the serious work we promised.
We must keep our promises, and we must never cease explaining not only our positions but also why we hold them. And look forward to Vice President Rubio in 2013.
William Bennett, a Republican strategist and radio talk show host, is a former education secretary and federal drug czar.
Erickson: GOP gains not sky-high
The expectations game was one the Republicans built up for themselves, with, in closing days, a number of Republicans really buying the hype that they could get to a gain of 80 or 90 seats in the House.
That is not likely, but the Republicans will, after only four years, take back the House. That's a big shift in four years. They'll have to be cautious, though, because the polling is showing that voters still don't trust the GOP.
The one consistent point we have seen in the House and the Senate is that the Democrats who are holding on in swing states and swing districts are those who ran against the Democrats. Gov. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who won a Senate seat, said he was going to take "the fight to Washington."
Exactly who is he going to fight other than his own president?
Erick Erickson is the editor-in-chief of the conservative website RedState.com
Begala: Congratulations to Republicans -- and to Nancy Pelosi
Good manners compels me to congratulate the GOP on what looks to be a historic victory. And I would be remiss if I did not recognize the historic speakership of Nancy Pelosi.
America's first female speaker has left some big (metaphorical) high heels to fill. She put the House on the side of working families. If there were a Mount Rushmore for speakers, she would be on it. Look at her historic accomplishments:
The Lilly Ledbetter Equal Pay Act for women, credit card reform, student loan reform, the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which tripled AmeriCorps, Cash for Clunkers, the Clean Energy & Security Act, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and most important, fundamental health care reform. The political winds have shifted against her, but the light of history will shine favorably upon her.
Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist, was a political consultant for Bill Clinton's presidential campaign in 1992 and counselor to Clinton in the White House.
Navarrette: Having it both ways
Here's an election story that won't go away.
Last week, President Obama caused a dustup when he went on a Spanish-language radio show hosted by Eddie "El Piolin" Sotelo and advised Latino voters to reward their friends and punish their enemies.
Not surprisingly, Republicans went ballistic. The GOP lives in fear that Latino voters, one of the nation's fastest growing demographics, will one day get tired of being treated like a piñata and give Republicans a taste of their own medicine.
House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, who is likely to become speaker of the House if Republicans take control of that chamber, fired back that those who disagree with Obama's agenda weren't enemies but were actually "patriots."
Monday, during an appearance on an English-language radio show hosted by Michael Baisden, Obama backed off the earlier comments and conceded that he should have used the word "opponents" instead of "enemies."
So who won this exchange? Obama did. The first set of comments was on Spanish-language radio, and so his confrontational message ("punish your enemies") was heard by exactly the audience he had hoped would hear it. The apology was on English-language radio, and, to that audience, he sounded contrite and conciliatory.
By going on both shows and approaching voters in both languages, President Obama got the best of both worlds.
Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a nationally syndicated columnist, an NPR commentator, and a regular contributor to CNN.com.
James Carville: Big congressional shift in the wings
Leon Spinks once said of Mike Tyson that "he hits you so hard it changes the way you taste."
Anyone politically astute enough to know that Tuesday night will not be particularly favorable for the Democrats will be expecting the coming blows. And If pollsters, pundits and prognosticators are right (and I think they are), everything is going to taste different at the White House on Wednesday.
For some, there is no way to be prepared for a jolt of this magnitude, with 1994's aftermath still fresh in our minds. But as we know, even after '94, the Democrats went on to win the popular vote in three out of the last four presidential elections and I suspect that trend will continue.
It's true that for the next couple of months the American people will witness a shift with ramifications that will be felt throughout our political system. As unpleasant as Tuesday night may be, most people are aware that one election proves very little.
I would like to caution everyone that our government will adapt and adjust just as it has to such situations before and life will go on in Washington for both parties. But yes, a dramatic congressional shift seems to be at hand.
James Carville is a Democratic strategist who serves as a political contributor for CNN, appearing frequently on CNN's "The Situation Room" as well as other programs on all CNN networks. Carville remains active in Democratic politics and is a party fundraiser.
The opinions expressed in these commentaries are solely those of the writers.