The biggest surprises of Election Day 2012

November 7, 2012

It's all over except for the shouting (and except where it's not over).

But did anything really surprise us on Tuesday? On the macro: Not really. Both chambers of Congress remained about as-is, and the presidency stayed with Barack Obama -- about like we had predicted.

But inside that big picture are a bunch of little Waldos that we thought were worth a closer look.

Below, the biggest surprises of the 2012 election:

Obama's margin: Most agreed the president was the odds-on favorite Tuesday (the poll-doubters notwithstanding), but few predicted Obama would win 332 electoral votes, as it appears he will if and when Florida is called for him. It also looks like Obama is going to win a majority of the popular vote. He's currently at 50.3 percent.

Senate Democrats: No one race in the Senate was all that surprising, but it's quite possible Senate Democrats will have won four of the five tossup races and actually expanded their Senate majority -- something basically nobody would have guessed even a year ago. Democrats are currently at 53 seats (54 if you include independent Angus King) and also lead in the last un-called race of the night, North Dakota. We could have a 55-45 Democratic majority next Congress.

Heidi Heitkamp (D): If there was a big surprise in the Senate, it was Heitkamp winning the open seat in North Dakota. The state gave Mitt Romney a 20-point win at the presidential level, but also backed Heitkamp narrowly over Rep. Rick Berg (R).

Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.): Despite being drawn into a district that lopped off his political base and would have gone 56 percent for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008, Barrow won reelection by eight points. By doing so, he remains the only white Democrat to represent the Deep South in Congress.

Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.): Some left Tierney for dead after his wife and brother-in-law's gambling scandal threatened Tierney's political career. Instead, Tierney beat back an inspired campaign from Republican Richard Tisei by one point.


Martha McSally (R): It's not a done deal yet, but the former Air Force colonel leads Rep. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.) by just about 1,300 votes with 100 percent of precincts reporting. If her lead holds, she will take the seat previously held by Gabrielle Giffords and make the special election-winning Barber one of the shortest tenured members in House history.

Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah): Matheson was looking like an underdog in an overhauled district against much-hyped GOP recruit and Republican National Convention star Mia Love, and a late poll even showed him down by 12. He won by just more than 1 percent.

Bill Foster (D): We knew Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) was in trouble after Democrats drew her a much tougher district; we didn't know how bad it would be. Foster, a former congressman, dispatched Biggert with prejudice, winning by 16 points in the Chicago suburbs.

Swing state GOP House candidates: It didn't matter that the top of the ticket faltered; Republicans were able to prevent further bleeding in many swing states. The GOP didn't lose any seats in Wisconsin, Nevada or Virginia and gained seats in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Iowa and Ohio, winning the two incumbent-versus-incumbent matchups in the latter two states. Republicans also kept their losses minimal in Florida, with embattled Rep. David Rivera (R) losing and controversial Rep. Allen West (R) apparently losing. The one sore spot? New Hampshire, where both seats went Democratic. When the top of the ticket loses, it can be contagious in some of the most important states; that wasn't the case Tuesday.

Updated at 4:34 p.m.

Read more from Washington Post Politics

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Results and analysis of key races in all 50 states

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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Aaron Blake · November 7, 2012