Democrats flipped the House. Republicans knocked off several Senate Democratic incumbents, increasing their majority there. Already both sides are claiming victory.
Democrats are on pace to pick up more than 30 House seats across the country, including some unexpected wins. They’ll argue that shows their message resonated in Trump territory. Republicans will point to triumphs in high-profile statewide races as an endorsement of President Trump and his agenda.
So, should winning the House with a substantial number of pickups, while losing ground in the Senate fit the criteria for a “blue wave”? Here’s the case for and against calling these midterms a wave election.
Yes, it was totally a blue wave
In previous midterm elections, when the House changed parties by smaller margins nationwide than it did this year, they were given the designation of being a “wave.”
As of early Wednesday, Democrats were projected to win the national popular vote by nearly nine percentage points, which is greater than the Republican “waves” in 1994, 2010 and 2014 and the Democratic “wave” in 2006. If those elections were waves, then this one is, too.
The economy is strong, unemployment is at historic lows and yet, Democrats can argue, they were still able to take the House away from the party of the sitting president.
Democrats did particularly well in the suburbs, where they hoped to capitalize on anti-Trump sentiment, especially among suburban women. They unseated Reps. Barbara Comstock (Va.), Mike Coffman (Colo.), Carlos Curbelo (Fla.) and Kevin Yoder (Kan.), as well as Pete Sessions (Tex.), who serves as Rules Committee chairman and has been in Congress for 15 years.
They even scored a few notable upsets, such as Democrat Max Rose taking out Rep. Daniel Donovan (R-N.Y.) in a Staten Island-based district the GOP wasn’t supposed to lose.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who is hoping to hold the speaker’s gavel once again, said triumphantly in her victory speech that because Democrats took the House, “tomorrow will be a new day in America.”
The Democrats also picked up five gubernatorial seats in New Mexico, Kansas, Illinois, Michigan and Maine. Laura Kelly, for one, overtook Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, an ally of Trump with a similarly hard-line approach to immigration.
Then, in what may be considered Democrats' greatest victory of the night, they ousted Wisconsin governor and onetime presidential candidate Scott Walker.
The statewide wins in Wisconsin and Michigan are especially noteworthy given that they are considered among the states that Hillary Clinton thought she had locked down and ultimately cost her the 2016 presidential election.
One could also argue it’s a blue wave based on how historic some of the Democrats’ wins were. There will be a record number of women in Congress next year. The House could have close to 100 women, most of them Democrats who decided to run for public office in response to Trump’s election. The new Democratic caucus will include the first Native American women, the first Muslim women and the youngest woman, who is also Latina, ever elected to Congress.
As for the Senate, few predicted the Democrats would actually win it. But did you see how close Rep. Beto O’Rourke got to beating Sen. Ted Cruz in Texas? Texas!
The Senate map was against Democrats from the start — a lot of their incumbents were up for reelection in conservative states that went for Trump in 2016. If Democrats had retained their Senate seats in Indiana, North Dakota and Missouri, that wouldn’t have been a wave, it would have been a tsunami.
No way, you can’t call that a wave
Sure, the Democrats took the House, but did you see just how badly they got trounced in the Senate? Sens. Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Claire McCaskill (Mo.) all lost by sizable margins, allowing the Republicans to widen their majority.
Trump tweeted that the night was a “tremendous success.” And from his vantage point, it was.
The massive repudiation of Trump that Democrats hoped for simply didn’t happen. In fact, in many states where Trump campaigned hard for Republicans, it seems the opposite occurred. He focused throughout the campaign on saving the Senate for the GOP, and it appears his efforts paid off.
And while House Democrats can now go forward with impeachment if they like, Trump is buffered by a Republican Senate that would never convict him.
Notably, the Democratic candidates who received the most national attention and fanfare lost or are on track to lose. In Georgia, even appearances by Oprah Winfrey and former president Barack Obama don’t seem to have gotten gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams across the finish line. And O’Rourke, who reached almost rock-star status (Beyoncé posed on Instagram Tuesday wearing a Beto hat!), couldn’t overtake Cruz in the end.
Democrats also weren’t able to pull off as many upsets in the House as they would have liked. There were several seats that were slightly out of reach, but they had hoped that a big enough wave could capture them.
This election also leaves Democrats with an identity crisis. Since 2016, one of the narratives from the liberal wing of the party has been that Democrats were losing key races because they lacked big, bold ideas.
Yet, some of their highest-profile liberal candidates lost, including Kara Eastman (Neb.), Randy Bryce (Wis.) and Liz Watson (Ind.), making it all the more challenging for Democrats to decide what kind of party they’re going to have heading into the 2020 presidential campaign — which unofficially starts now.