Thomas B Edsall

Democrats counting on favorable demographic trends to carry their party to victory in 2016 should consider three significant developments reflected in the outcome of Tuesday’s elections.

The first is that the Republican establishment, at least for the moment, has wrested control back from the Tea Party wing. This will make it more difficult for Democrats to portray their opponents as dangerous extremists.

The second, and more important, development was the success of Republican candidates in defusing accusations that their party is conducting a “war on women.” The effectiveness of Republican tactics on this front is sure to influence strategy in two years, threatening to undermine a line of attack that has generated a gender gap and has been crucial to past Democratic victories.

The third was the powerful showing of Republican gubernatorial candidates in two Midwestern states important to Democrats in presidential elections: Wisconsin and Michigan.

John Feehery, president of Quinn Gillespie Communications, a Washington lobbying firm, was outspoken on Tuesday in his interpretation of the 2014 election:

“The hard-right is not in control of the agenda anymore. The inmates are no longer running the asylum. The adults are back in charge,” Feehery, who spent two decades working as an aid to the former Republican minority leader Robert Michel, the former House majority leader Tom DeLay, and former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, wrote in an email to the Times.

“The number one issue for the Senate majority is to have some accomplishments that the vulnerable members up in 2016 can run on,” according to Feehery.

David Brady, a political scientist at Stanford and deputy director of the Hoover Institution, voiced less certainty over the ability of the establishment to control the agenda.

The results are not a mandate for the Republican Party, Brady said, and “the question is: can the leadership contain the whackos and legislate on immigration, taxes and the few other areas where deals are possible.”

Looking forward, Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center noted that now “the pressure is on the G.O.P. If they don’t meet or exceed expectations, given views of Obama and public discontent, it will raise real questions about their long term political viability.” If, however, “they do well, the pressure on the Democrats to have a new look going forward will be very great.” While Republicans may not have a mandate, Democrats suffered some serious setbacks.

The party’s candidates for Senate and governor in Georgia were crushed by larger margins than expected. The results threaten Democratic prospects of turning Georgia into a presidential battlefield in 2016.

In Texas, Democrats expected to lose but were counting on Wendy Davis to demonstrate that the state will, in the near future, turn competitive. Instead, she lost her gubernatorial bid to Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate, by more than 20 points.

Stephen Ansolabehere, a political scientist at Harvard, wrote in response to my inquiry that “one of the important stories is the loss of several key moderate Democrats, including John Walsh in Montana, Tim Johnson in South Dakota, and Mark Pryor in Arkansas. That will be a big hole in the centrist faction.”

Republicans, in contrast, established beachheads in two Midwestern states that have traditionally cast presidential majorities for Democrats. In Michigan, Republican Governor Rick Snyder won re-election handily, and in Wisconsin, Scott Walker, a Republican governor with his eye on a presidential bid, overwhelmed Democratic challenger Mary Burke.

Both Walker and Snyder have won enactment of legislation adamantly opposed by organized labor in states where unions have been a powerful force in the past.

David Leege, political scientist emeritus at Notre Dame, summarized his assessment of the election in a late night email:

“Bi-election year 2014 was the final chapter in making the president small. The immediate aftermath of 2008 was that Americans had finally conquered their racial aversions. The election of Barack Obama was a victory both for renewed national hope and long-awaited democracy. Obama was big, a star, a voice to be reckoned with, a mind to be taken seriously.

“By 2014 Obama was small, a punching bag, easily bullied, the one to whom small politicians could talk tough, abusively, the one whose ideas were ignored, the one whom his fellow partisans would come to avoid at all cost. How could this happen in six short years?”–NY Times

The good, bad and bizarre:

Some US election candidates

From a failed American idol contestant to an ex-convict, everyone seemed to get in on the act in Tuesday’s midterm US congressional elections.

Here are some of the quirkiest or most noteworthy of the Senate and House races:

Arizona: Democrat Ron Barber, who was an aide to former representative Gabby Giffords and injured when a gunman opened fire on her in 2011, was looking like he would retain his House seat.

Iowa: Republican Joni Ernst made headlines during her campaign to replace retiring Democrat Tom Harkin with a video insisting she has castrated hogs so she knows how to cut pork in Washington. It worked. She won, bringing home the bacon.

Georgia: Democrat Jason Carter, the grandson of former president Jimmy Carter, lost his bid to become governor of Georgia. He was soundly defeated by Republican Nathan Deal, who took 53 percent of the vote.

Louisiana: Long-term state governor Edwin Edwards, 85, who served eight years in jail on racketeering charges, is making a stunning comeback in a bid to be elected to the House of Representatives. He came first in Tuesday’s vote with some 30 percent, enough to force a run-off for the seat in December.

New Hampshire: Former Republican Massachusetts senator Scott Brown who moved states to make a fresh bid for Senate made a special kind of history, becoming the first man to be defeated by two different women. He lost in Massachusetts to rising Democratic star Elizabeth Warren in 2013. And he lost again Tuesday in New Hampshire as Democrat Jeanne Shaheen held onto her seat.

New Hampshire: Tea Party Republican Frank Guinta and Democrat Carol Shea-Porter are old adversaries. Guinta defeated her in 2010, before she wrested back a district House seat in 2012. On Tuesday night it was sweet revenge for Guinta, who narrowly won the seat back. New York: Incumbent Republican Mike Grimm, who threatened to throw a reporter off a balcony for asking about his legal woes, including 20 charges of tax evasion, still managed to hang onto his House seat, winning 55 percent.

New York: In a different district, a 30-year-old upstate New York Republican, Elise Stefanik, made history by becoming the youngest woman elected to US Congress. She was an aide to former president George W. Bush.

North Carolina: Always the bridesmaid ... former “American Idol” hopeful Clay Aiken lost out again, after coming in second on the US television contest in 2003. Running as a Democratic candidate, the singer-songwriter was defeated by Republican Renee Ellmers who successfully defended her House seat.

South Carolina: Republican Tim Scott became the first African-American elected to the US Senate from the South since the Civil War era. Texas: Another George Bush - grandson and nephew of two former presidents bearing the same name - won election in the lone star state of Texas. George Prescott Bush, son of former Florida governor, Jeb Bush, signalled the family dynasty is here to stay, when he was elected to an obscure office. The land commissioner oversees lucrative mineral rights for oil and gas.