In Defying the Odds, we discuss state and congressional elections as well as the presidential race. Our next book, title TBA, discusses the 2020 results.
The biggest upset of the election was the House GOP's seat gain in the face of expectations that it would lose seats.
Josh Kraushaar at National Journal:
There were three major groups of contests where ticket-splitting took place: 1) Races where the incumbent lawmaker had a well-defined record of bipartisanship; 2) races where the challenger was either ideologically extreme or ethically tainted; 3) races where the challenger’s political biography was unique enough to persuade a critical constituency to back them despite deepening partisanship.
Nebraska’s 2nd District race is a textbook example of a perfect political storm on all fronts. The Omaha-area district wasn’t just home to a competitive House race, but it also allocated a pivotal Electoral College vote to the presidential winner. Biden dominated in the district, winning by a seven-point margin in a district that Trump carried by two points in 2016. It featured the biggest pro-Biden swing of any targeted presidential state or district in the entire country.
But even as the district turned blue, Republican Rep. Don Bacon won re-election by a larger margin than in his last election. He even faced the same opponent, Democrat Kara Eastman, an outspoken progressive who received significant financial support from the national party in her comeback bid, but badly underachieved expectations. Republicans won over those Joe Biden supporters with an effective ad campaign that contrasted Biden’s more-moderate positions on issues like Medicare for All with Eastman’s progressive postures. One memorable ad from the National Republican Congressional Committee featured an Eastman lookalike sitting at her desk with Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez bobblehead dolls prominently featured.
But Bacon didn’t just benefit from Eastman’s left-wing record. He also positioned himself as a bipartisan problem solver, and won a critical endorsement from the district’s last Democratic congressman Brad Ashford (whom Bacon defeated in 2016). That double-whammy of an incumbent’s bipartisanship and an opponent’s ideological extremism was crystal clear from the election results.