Yes, President Donald Trump over-performed polls and expectations in Tuesday’s presidential election, again.
But the biggest surprise of the 2020 election wasn’t Trump, who, as Wednesday wore on, saw his odds of being reelected shrink.
It was what happened in Congress, as Republicans in the Senate and the House drastically over-performed doom-and-gloom predictions of their demise amid a Trump landslide loss.
Start in the Senate: Most nonpartisan handicappers had long since predicted that Democrats were very likely to win the majority on November 3. “Democrats remain the clear favorites to take back the Senate with just days to go until Election Day,” wrote the Cook Political Report’s Senate editor Jessica Taylor on October 29. “A lack of tightening in the presidential race as President Trump continues to be a drag downballot is set to doom many Republican incumbents.”
It didn’t turn out that way. Yes, Colorado’s Sen. Cory Gardner (R) lost. But so did Alabama’s Sen. Doug Jones (D). And endangered Republicans like Susan Collins (Maine), Joni Ernst (Iowa) and Steve Daines (Montana) managed to win and, in the latter two races, win by larger-than-expected margins.
While Arizona’s Mark Kelly (D) continues to maintain a lead over Sen. Martha McSally (R), there aren’t a lot of other obvious gains for Democrats. In North Carolina, Sen. Thom Tillis holds a narrow but steady edge over Democrat Cal Cunningham. In Georgia, Sen. David Perdue (R) is leading Democrat Jon Ossoff.
A Republican majority isn’t a guarantee. (If Biden winds up winning, Democrats would need to net three seats to control the Senate.) But it’s WAY more likely than four hours ago.
Now to the House: In the days before the election, we were told by political professionals that not only would Republicans not win back the House majority but that they also could well be looking at double-digit seat losses.
Again, it didn’t work out that way. At all.
“At this writing, Republicans may be on track to pick up between five and ten seats in the House,” wrote Cook Report House editor David Wasserman on Wednesday afternoon.
That, of course, still means that Republicans are likely to enter 2021 in the House minority. But narrowing Democrats’ majority margin makes every vote a heavy lift for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (California). Plus, if Biden winds up winning, Republicans could be well-positioned to make a serious run at the majority in the 2022 midterms.
The Point: The White House was – and is – the big prize on Election Day. But don’t underestimate how much Republicans’ surprising strength in the Senate and House will matter in the months and years to come.