Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Top-20 Episodes of "The Wonder Years"

Back in the mid-1980s, the best way to ensure a successful launch for a new series was to air its pilot episode following the Super Bowl.  The first two series to do this were action series' "The A-Team" and "Airwolf" in 1983 and 1984, respectively, and both went on to be big hits.  Not every post-Super Bowl premiere would go on to be so huge but on January 31, 1988, ABC took a gamble on a comedy-drama period piece set in the late 1960s called "The Wonder Years", featuring 12-year-old Kevin Arnold coming of age and narrated by the adult version of the Kevin.  The series launched with an outstanding pilot episode and would go on to run for six seasons on ABC.

"The Wonder Years" was stylistically different from anything else on television at the time and the showrunners were savvy about centering the series around the simple and often lighthearted affairs of an adolescent boy while also keeping the backdrop of Vietnam-era cultural turbulence always lurking inescapably in the shadows.  The series was especially adept at bouncing back and forth between the innocence of youth and the routine loss of that innocence on an episode by episode basis, and in some cases within the episodes themselves.  This template provided a broad range for the storytelling and tremendous capacity for character growth as the series progressed.

That character growth helped the show age well, both over the course of its six-season run on ABC and in regards to viewing the series again decades later as I recently did when I purchased the whole series on DVD.  Consuming the series by watching it on a nightly basis on DVD is a different experience than it was watching the episodes one week at a time when it originally aired from 1988 to 1993, as it was easier to identify the transitory phases of some of the series' main characters occurring on a more accelerated timeline.

The primary takeaway is that the Kevin Arnold character is kind of a dick....in fact more than kind of a dick!  Throughout the run of the series, he was something a user.  He used his parents, he used his friends, and he used his teachers.  He didn't appreciate his family, friends, or girlfriend when they had his best interests at heart and he had a hot temper that reared itself in unpleasant ways.  He was also smug and condescending when he either excelled at something or imagined that he excelled at something. In other words, he was a teenage boy.  And the character's annoying qualities were softened by the fact that the adult narrator fully realized what a dick he was when he was a teenager, with an appropriate level of regret for his youthful insufferability.

As for Kevin's parents, they were both fantastic, but in the case of his father, that wasn't always the case.  Early in the series' run, the Jack Arnold character was cold, distant, quick to boiling rage, and indifferent towards his kids' welfare, but the showrunners appropriately softened his edges in the coming seasons and made him a great father figure...still hard-nosed and intimidating, but with obvious love and sacrifice in his heart for his family.  His mother Norma was always a saint though, a 60s-era housewife who dependably held the line in a home full of egos and tempers, but found her calling later in the series when she went to school and got a career of her own.

Kevin's siblings were often harder to like to put it mildly.  His older sister Karen was a rebellious hippie who clashed regularly with her father.  While there some epic father-daughter moments during the course of the series, the Karen character never grew on me as she always seemed aloof, unappreciative, and disrespectful.  Older brother Wayne required a much more complicated take, portrayed as an irredeemable sleaze early in the series' run who behaved like a nasty bully to hide his own tremendous insecurities.  While Wayne never became fully likeable, there was a rising tide of remarkable moments with the character as the series proceeded that humanized him greatly and suggested he would go on to be a pretty solid guy when he finally fully matured.

Kevin's two primary "friends" during the series also had mixed, but mostly positive, legacies.  Long-time girl-next-door sweetheart Winnie Cooper was mostly a positive influence and a likeable character full of heart and empathy, but was prone to prima donna moments and serious lapses in judgment that made it easy to understand why Kevin spent as much time broken up with her as together.  And best friend Paul Pfeiffer was a solid guy all around who was usually easy to cheer for, but was able to get under Kevin's skin in a way that was very tangible to the audience, particularly as the series proceeded and Paul more frequently got on a moral high horse.

As for the series' overall progression, there were moments of greatness throughout its run.  The first season was only six episodes, and the writers' strike of the summer of 1988 combined with the series' production challenges made episode output slow and behind schedule for its first two seasons.  Both seasons featured Kevin in the 7th grade and while there were epic moments and iconic episodes all around, there was also an outsized number of episodes devoted to the puerile pratfalls of adolescent relationships.  While these episodes were charming, humorous, and well-done, they didn't usually ascend to what I considered the best storytelling this series was capable of.

For my money, season 3 was the series' strongest.  The character was in 8th grade now and while there was still plenty of adolescent relationship drama, the character was maturing and had a deeper grasp on a variety of matters that made the life lessons imparted in the stories more impactful.  The series' also scored its highest ratings in season 3, a mainstay in the Nielsen top-10 for the 1989-90 season, although it got quite an assist from its cushy timeslot Tuesday nights between "Who's the Boss?" and "Roseanne".

The series was promoted by ABC in season 4 to lead its Wednesday night lineup, and while the outcome wasn't a disaster, the series lost a pretty fair share of its audience.  And the stories, while still very good more often than not, became a little less consistently great this year.  The slide continued in season 5, and the ratings had become middling by season's end, barely on the edge of satisfactory when it came to leading a weeknight schedule.  The content was more inconsistent even than season 4, with forgettable and lackluster outings not necessarily a regular feature but happening with more regularity than viewers had seen in the previous seasons.  The series had lost a lot of steam in just two years and found itself on the bubble for a season 6 renewal.

Thankfully, the sixth season happened.  There were some undeniable howlers in the bunch, with the series occasionally dipping to standard sitcom plot contrivances and stretching the audience's ability to accept Kevin's expansion pack resume, but there were also more excellent episodes in the season than the previous two, and a helpful transitory phase for the main characters with Jack starting his own furniture business and Norma finishing school and starting her career at the dawn of the women's liberation movement of the early 70s.  The ratings didn't substantially dip over the course of season 6, but they were mediocre enough the previous year that ABC was no longer satisfied.  "The Wonder Years" was on the bubble again, with producers hoping for a seventh season to follow Kevin to his high school graduation, and they ended the season with an episode that could function as either a season finale or series finale.

Unfortunately, ABC swung the ax and ended the series.  With as strongly as it finished, it's a shame ABC couldn't have let it go one more year, even if the final season was an abbreviated one.  Particularly when considering the clunker sitcoms that replaced it on Wednesday night in the fall of 1993, none of which lasted a full season, the premature death sentence for "The Wonder Years" seemed all the more indefensible.

I had originally planned to do a top-10 episode list but when I stopped to look back at how many exceptional moments the series put forward in its six seasons, I just had to expand my list to a top-20.  Honestly, it was hard not to expand it to a top-25.  When considering that they only made 114 episodes, that's a pretty high batting average for excellence.  Anyway, here's my top-20....

#20.  "Angel" (Season 1, Episode 4...originally aired April 5, 1988)......Kevin was never particularly close to older sister Karen (she was so distant, how could he be?) but he found himself extremely territorial when she got a serious boyfriend plucked from the hippie culture.  More profound, however, was the tense and thoughtful Vietnam War debate that "Louis" and Jack Arnold got into at the dinner table.  The conversation worked to enlighten Jack, awaken Kevin to the scary and consequential times they lived in, and foreshadowed the moment a few seasons ahead when Jack would have to face "sending his sons off to war" personally.

#19. "Poker" (Season 6, Episode 18....originally aired March 24, 1993).....For most of "The Wonder Years" final season, Kevin was in deep with a new set of friends, and we had been seeing less and less of long-time best friend Paul Pfeiffer.  The friends' group's semiregular poker game brought that dynamic to a head as the friends wanted Kevin to ditch Paul who they didn't connect with, and while Kevin casually defended him, he found himself increasingly agitated by Paul's idiosyncrasies and it was increasingly clear the two were drifting apart.  Most people can connect with that long-time best friend from school who they drifted away from over time, making this a fairly sad episode given how strong of a connection Paul and Kevin had as boys.  The closing scene helped to at least convince the audience that even though Paul and Kevin's friendship heyday was likely in the past, they would probably not drift apart entirely.

#18. "Carnal Knowledge" (Season 5, Episode 19....originally aired March 25, 1992)....If ever there was a tipping point where the aforementioned drifting between Kevin and Paul really escalated, it was this late season 5 episode where Kevin and his friends schemed to sneak into an adult movie.  Paul wouldn't go with the rest of the friends because he had some family friends over, including a college-age girl who he connected with.  The final moments of the episode were shocking when Paul came over to reveal to Kevin that he lost his virginity to the college-age girl who visited him.  Kevin, who always saw himself as better than Paul, had no idea how to respond to the shifted dynamic where he and his friends were proud of themselves for going to see a movie about sex while Paul was actually having it.

#17. "Hiroshima, Mon Frere" (Season 2, Episode 8....originally aired February 15, 1989)....The audience had gotten a taste at what an insufferable bully Kevin's older brother Wayne was already, but when Jack and Norma left Kevin and Wayne home alone one evening, it all came to a head.  Wayne's persistent rejections from the girls he was asking out made him particularly insecure and eager to lash out on his younger brother, but when Wayne accidentally took it too far, Kevin found the verbal tool box he needed to inflict some real emotional backlash on him.  The episode was uncomfortable at times, but the story cleverly drawn out with the brothers patching things up as much as they were capable of in the closing scene.

#16. "Private Butthead" (Season 5, Episode 14....originally aired February 5, 1992)....Wayne's long-standing insecurities were rearing themselves in life-changing ways as high school graduation approached and he and his goofy best friend "Wart" were committed in enlisting to fight for their country in Vietnam.  Jack, a one-time Vietnam War supporter, was now trying everything to talk Wayne out of enlisting, but a medical condition was the only thing that ultimately kept Wayne state-side, leading to one of Wayne's most vulnerable moments in the series and a highly emotional closing scene with his father.

#15. "New Year's" (Season 6, Episode 11....originally aired January 6, 1993).....Another fantastic Wayne episode, with Wayne out of high school, working with his father, and in a serious relationship with a 23-year-old woman with a young child.  Wayne was deeply in love and maturing quickly in a way that Kevin had a hard time coming to terms with.  Wayne made plans with the family for New Year's and Kevin was being a dick about it since he couldn't hang out with his friends as planned, but Kevin ended up being the first to learn that Wayne's girlfriend was dumping him after reconnecting with the baby daddy.  To his credit, Kevin was committed to finding his no-show brother, recognizing that his world was caving in on him.  When Kevin found a drunken Wayne at a laundromat, Wayne was taking it hard yet was surprisingly mature in his perspective, assuring viewers that Wayne was not likely to backslide into previous levels of immaturity and self-defeating backlash.

#14. "Don't You Know Anything About Women?" (Season 3, Episode 11....originally aired January 16, 1990).....For every guy who looks back to the female "friend" from school and recognizes in retrospect that they would have been a perfect couple, this episode hit especially hard.  Kevin had perfect chemistry with his 8th grade lab partner "Linda", a sassy, funny, and sorta-pretty-but-not-gorgeous girl who was drama-free and had a huge crush on Kevin.  But Kevin was pursuing the "hot girl" and using Linda to get closer to her, ultimately culminating in a request to go to "the dance".  Linda was quietly devastated when she put two and two together, and we never saw her again while Kevin was stuck with the hot blond who he ultimately didn't connect with.  We never saw Linda again and the adult narrator was now fully aware he blew it massively.

#13. "The Little Women" (Season 6, Episode 19.....originally aired March 31, 1993).....Some of the funnier episodes of "The Wonder Years" were the ones where the narrator's behavior was the most inappropriate.  In this episode, some evolving storylines came to a head when Norma was finished with school and got her first job at an impressively large salary.  Meanwhile, Kevin was thrilled when his SAT scores came in and were impressive, but far below the score of girlfriend Winnie Cooper, who was now looking at brochures for Ivy League colleges.  Naturally, father and son Jack and Kevin were feeling incredibly insecure about their manhood, particularly with the onset of the women's lib movement as a backdrop.  Their solution....invite the women for a macho game of bowling where they could crush them with their physical prowess and reassert their male dominance.  The entire episode was a scream from beginning to end, primarily because the adult narrator realizes so fully in retrospect what sexist pigs he and his father were being.

#12. "The Accident" (Season 4, Episode 20....originally aired April 24, 1991).....Kevin and Winnie had just broken up again a few episodes earlier, one of several times throughout the series but this was the time that hit Kevin the hardest.  But in the weeks after the break-up, they started to renew their friendship, and Winnie was suddenly coming over to hang out but acting very strangely and sending confusing mixed signals to Kevin.  It was clear this was all leading up to something, but the viewer didn't know exactly what, but ultimately when Winnie was injured in a minor car accident, it led to a wildly dramatic closing scene in the window of her home.  Not a dry eye was to be found among the millions watching.

#11.  "The Hardware Store" (Season 5, Episode 3.....originally aired October 16, 1991).....Kevin had his first job working for a surly but wise old man at a small hardware store.  He was incredibly unhappy and especially so when he saw some of his friends were working at the mall and had girls hanging all over them...and so began Kevin's quest to ditch the old man and get a job at the mall wearing a paper hat.  There were two undercurrents of sadness in the story.  First, Kevin had to break the old man's heart and quit the job to get a crummy job at the mall that the adult narrator realizes in retrospect was a huge mistake. But even sadder was the foreshadowing of the business' decline since Jack, who knew the old guy and was his biggest champion in terms of Kevin's employment at the hardware store, ultimately betrayed the old guy just as Kevin did, making up excuses to go to the mall to pick up the plumbing parts he needed rather than patronize the old guy's hardware store.

#10. "Math Class Squared" (Season 3, Episode 9....originally aired December 12, 1989).....Kevin introduced us to a lot of memorable former teachers over the course of the series' six seasons, but most impactful was the arc involving awkward, tough-as-nails 8th grade algebra teacher Mr. Collins that played out over the course of season 3.  Kevin respected the man despite how challenging his class was, and he sensed Collins respected him too.  When Kevin thought he'd get in on a cheating scheme put together by some classmates who were now outperforming him, and hope he'd pull it off without the crafty Collins figuring it out, Collins managed to show Kevin how much respect he had for him while simultaneously leveling a very clever life lesson in how he handled the cheating.

#9. "The Journey" (Season 4, Episode 3....originally aired October 3, 1990).....In a fun send-up to "Stand by Me", Kevin and some 9th grade friends were committed to scoring some beer and crashing a house party where some 10th and 11th grade girls were supposed to be.  They ran into an endless litany of hilarious obstacles on their way across town to this party, but the best punchline of the episode was the reception they met when they finally got to this house party and the hard-fought "journey" was complete.

#8. "The Family Car" (Season 3, Episode 7....originally aired November 21, 1989).... By this point in the series, hard-nosed Jack Arnold's edges had already been softened a fair amount and he had become a character impossible to not like.  We really learned what made him tick in this episode as he had to be drug kicking and screaming to replace the clunky old family car that he had invested so much time and energy into.  The rest of the family just wanted to be rid of the thing and onto a vehicle upgrade like all of their neighbors were getting, but by the time the wrecker came to tow away the old car at the end, Jack seemed to finally be at peace while the rest of the family finally understood how much it meant to him and all of them.

#7.  "Nemesis" (Season 2, Episode 11...originally aired March 14, 1989).....The second season of the "Wonder Years" was heavy on middle-school relationship drama and was usually pretty funny to observe from an adult perspective.  But at the center of this drama was Becky Slater, the girl Kevin had strung along to piss off Winnie Cooper, who didn't take it well, to put it mildly, when he broke things off.  As Kevin began to recall some of the not-so-nice things he had said to Becky about others, he became uneasy that the vindictive Becky would share these things.  It turned out he had reason to be concerned and Becky's methodical revelations and the reactions of Kevin and all the people he bad-mouthed made for one of the series' most hilarious episodes.

#6.  "The Lake" (Season 5, Episode 1....originally aired September 18, 1991).....Summer romance had been a successfully realized theme on "The Wonder Years" third season premiere as well, but Kevin connected much more deeply with summer romance "Cara" in the opening episode of season 5.  It was the kind of episode that hit way too close to home for anybody who had a summer fling in their formative years.  The episode was deserving of a follow-up act and got one at the end of season 5, another all-too-familiar situation where attempting to recreate the magic of the summer fling doesn't work out the second time around.

#5. "Summer/Independence Day" (Season 6, Episodes 21 and 22....originally aired May 12, 1993).....As I said in the introduction, the "Wonder Years" was on the bubble at the end of season 6 and the writers put together an episode that could function as a season finale OR a series finale, with a closing scene that could be altered if necessary in post-production if the series ended up getting canceled.  And it did get canceled.  The episode was a fine hour either way, with Kevin getting into a huge fight with his dad and opting to leave home in pursuit of girlfriend Winnie Cooper at her summer resort job, but when he got there he discovered that Winnie was looking to "find herself" in a different way.  Their intense fight didn't make each other look particularly good, and by episode's end they both acknowledged they probably weren't gonna end up together as they had long expected.  In one respect, it felt like there was another season's worth of storytelling ahead that could have given the series more appropriate closure, but the closing narration put together on the fly after it was revealed the series was canceled was a gut punch in several directions, masterfully written in how simultaneously heartbreaking and satisfying it was.

#4. "Pilot" (Season 1, Episode 1....originally aired January 31, 1988).....Moving from a fantastic final episode to a fantastic opening episode, "The Wonder Years" knew exactly what it was and exactly what it was gonna be in its brilliant premiere, providing a template for a long run with the series' emotional highs and lows on multiple fronts, establishing the well-drawn primary characters with splashes of humor, romance, and heartbreaking sorrow that reflected the loss of innocence of the culturally turbulent times that were America's reality in 1968.  It would have been hard for them to do any better with their opening pitch.

#3. "Goodbye" (Season 3, Episode 20....originally aired April 24, 1990).....Aforementioned algebra teacher Mr. Collins agreed to tutor Kevin to help him "get that A that he knows that he wants" in the third and best episode of the three-episode Mr. Collins arc that began early in season 3.  But when Collins started to cancel some tutoring sessions, Kevin took it personally and purposely blew the test.  When Kevin handed the test to Mr. Collins full of bullshit answers, the viewer could see the heartbreak on the normally stoic Mr. Collins' face, and as Kevin smugly walked out of the room, the audience knew what Kevin didn't...that that would be the last time we'd see Collins.  The emotionally charged closing with Collins' final posthumous gesture of respect towards Kevin was easily one of the series' narrative high points.

#2. "The Tree House" (Season 3, Episode 15....originally aired February 20, 1990)....Usually the more emotionally charged "Wonder Years" episodes were the most impactful, but the episodes that were just straight-up hilarious shouldn't be discounted either....and no episode was funnier than the episode where Kevin was petrified that his own father was about to give him the same awkward "talk" about the birds and bees that his friends were getting.  Sensing that father and son were avoiding each other, Norma requested some bonding over the construction of a treehouse, but that seemingly benign project ramped up the awkwardness when the shapely and scantily-clad female neighbor next door was loudly whistling while tending to her garden, making it impossible for father and son to avoid the elephant in the room.  Rarely has a series known its characters well enough to pull an episode like this off and rarely has a series so eloquently captured the awkwardness of the bonding experience between a blue-collar father and an adolescent boy.

#1. "Homecoming" (Season 6, Episode 1...originally aired September 23, 1992).....Thank goodness "The Wonder Years" was brought back for a sixth season as there were quite a few outstanding episodes that year, but none were more outstanding than the masterfully crafted season opener which articulated the series' fundamental conflict between innocence and innocence lost better than any other episode.  The audience is led to believe the episode will primarily be about Kevin and his friends pulling a prank against the rival team's mascot at the homecoming game, but the curve ball subplot that emerges and overwhelms that original story involves the return of Wayne's best friend Wart from Vietnam. Wart is clearly a changed man neck-deep in PTSD, and when Wayne stumbles upon him in the final throes of a breakdown, the audience experiences the shining moment of Wayne (and indeed any character during the tenure of the series) in his gesture.  The way the two storylines converge in the climax makes this episode a narrative perfect game above and beyond anything else the audience was treated to.

I knew going into my recent revisit of "The Wonder Years" that it would be fun and enriching, but it was even better than I expected.  I'd love to hear from producers what kind of story ideas they were spitballing for the would-be season 7.  Most shows in their final seasons are weary and long overdue to be put down, but that was not true of "The Wonder Years" and I have a feeling that more unforgettable moments of television were sacrificed in 1993 when ABC turned the lights off on "The Wonder Years" to replace it with....."Thea".  Still, the series got 114 episodes, most of which offered at least something admirable, bringing either a smile to your face or a tear to your eye.  The writing was sparkling and the cast had consistent chemistry and charisma.  Hard to ask for much more.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

2018 Election Postmortem: An Ominous Split Decision

In the week leading up to the 2018 midterms, things were looking very good for the Democratic Party.  Most of the battleground races appeared to be breaking their way in the polls and it seemed as though they might be peaking at exactly the right time.  On the other hand, the same polls showing a late Democratic surge were also showing that the Republican base was energized and poised to vote in large numbers and would likely prevent a historic Democratic wave from materializing.  In the end, the Republican base did turn out and suppressed the Democratic gains considerably where it mattered most....and the election turned out about what I had expected it to a few weeks before the election with a big suburban-fueled Democratic wave in the House of Representatives coupled with a major Democratic setback in the Senate.

The fault lines of polarization that were realigned in the 2016 Presidential cycle were largely reinforced in 2018 with most blue states getting bluer and most red states circling the wagons around Trumpism.  It turned out that the immigrant caravan very much mattered to rural, red-state voters while tariffs on their soybeans and pork products didn't phase them at all.  This ended the careers of some of my favorite red-state Senators, brought about Democratic losses in some high-profile gubernatorial battlegrounds, and limited Democratic gains in legislatures across the country to well below what many expected.

But ultimately what mattered least--the House of Representatives--did swing to the Democrats by an impressive margin given the meh outcomes in the higher-profile races.  It looks as though Democrats will end up netting 38 or 39 seats when all is said and done, a tick higher than the 35 I predicted with some genuine surprises amongst the Democratic wins.  The good news is that given the political trendlines of most of the places where Democrats flipped GOP-held seats, the new majority seems fairly durable, with relatively few seats among them looking like rentals poised to flip back in 2020.  The bad news is that a Democratic House will have little power in shaping our long-term political culture.  They don't get to appoint or reject judges the way that Senators do.  They don't get to determine Congressional and legislative district lines the way that Governors and legislatures do.  All they get to do is prevent bad legislation from making it to the Senate or the President's desk and to do a ton of investigating of the executive branch.  While that oversight is sorely needed from a good government standpoint, expect it to come with a political price.

The biggest surprise to me in the national exit polls was that only 40% of Americans approved of the Mueller investigation.  A plurality of voters view it as a political witch hunt.  In other words, Trump has already won this fight.  Even the barest level of investigation into Trump's past and present crimes is viewed as persecution....even amongst the D+8 national electorate that showed up on November 6th!  Trump will thus have a field day playing off of this new Democratic majority, raising his own favorables while diminishing theirs heading into 2020, reinforcing my long-held belief that he's a good bet for re-election.

But we'll worry about 2020 when it gets here.  For now, here's the national breakdown of 2018 at a state-by-state level, as is my November tradition....

Alabama--All of the drama in Alabama played out last year in the Senate special election.  All that was on that ballot this year was the Governor's race, where incumbent Republican Kay Ivey won as expected.  I was a little surprised that her margin of victory was a tick less than 20 points, and while that doesn't exactly suggest competitiveness on the horizon anytime soon in the Jackhammer State, the pinkish hue of previously dark red Mobile and Tuscaloosa counties suggests some of the Doug Jones coalition from last year might hold together moving forward.  The 6-1 Republican House delegation remained safely intact.

Alaska--Another year, another round of Democratic hopes dashed in Alaska.  Only three weeks before the election, unpopular Independent Governor Bill Walker dropped out of the race, recognizing he couldn't win and was merely dividing the opposition against Republican Mike Dunleavy.  Former Democratic Senator Mark Begich was the Democratic nominee and suddenly had a clear path to take on Dunleavy one on one.  Polling in Alaska is notoriously difficult but there were a couple of signs that Begich might be able to pull it off.  Perhaps if Walker had dropped out months earlier, he would have, but Dunleavy had too much momentum and ended up winning by 8 points.  The Democrats' decades-old quest to snuff out controversial Republican Don Young, the dean of the United States House, also fell short once again and Young prevailed by 7 points and will return for his 24th term.

Arizona--On one hand, when Hillary got within 3 points in Arizona in 2016, it was the first of a few signs that the Grand Canyon State wasn't Trump country despite its long-standing reputation as a paragon of Sun Belt conservatism.  On the other hand, there remained reasons to be skeptical that Democratic Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema was the right candidate to flip blue the seat held by retiring Republican Jeff Flake, particularly up against Republican Congresswoman Martha McSally.  The contrast between the women's biographies--former anti-war radical who made condescending comments about her state's voters before reinventing herself as a conservative Democrat versus a decorated female fighter pilot who won a seat as Republican in a blue-leaning Tucson-area Congressional district--seemed like a tough sell to Arizonans in which the Democrats could well piss away a golden opportunity.  But in the end, Sinema pulled it out and now appears poised to win by more than 2 points and a 50,000-vote margin.  It was an impressive win, but given that there will soon be a special election to fill the seat vacated by the late John McCain, I like McSally's chances of finding her way to the Senate in the near future despite losing this year.  As expected, McSally's old House seat flipped to Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick, the previous holder of a different Arizona House seat, while Sinema's old Tempe-based seat remained in Democratic hands as well.  The only good news for Arizona Republicans was the re-election of GOP Governor Doug Ducey, who prevailed by 14 points.

Arkansas--The Natural State's sprint to the political right continued this year with Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson scoring a blowout 33-point re-election victory against token Democratic opposition.  The all-Republican Congressional delegation was re-elected, and the only Republican who faced a serious challenge, Little Rock-area Congressman French Hill, prevailed by 6 points.  And as a sign of how close the Arkansas realignment is to complete, two of the three remaining rural Democrats in Arkansas' legislative bodies were felled as well.  For context, a decade ago the Democrats held the Governorship, both houses of the legislature with supermajorities, three of four Congressional districts, and both U.S. Senate seats.  Hard to imagine a scenario of a Democratic comeback materializing any time in the foreseeable horizon in the state given how strongly and rapidly the old coalition collapsed.

California--If Arkansas is a case study in Democratic collapse, California is a case study in Republican collapse.  And whenever you think the Republican fortunes in the Golden State couldn't possibly sink any lower, they find a way, with another bloodbath this year.  Democrats retained the Governor's office with Gavin Newsom prevailing by 23 points.  And while veteran Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein only won re-election by 9 points, it was a Democratic challenger running to her left who she beat.  As I predicted would happen, anti-Feinstein Republican voters converged with Hispanic Democrats to vote for Kevin de Leon, despite the fact that he's more liberal than she is, and while the final result wasn't close, Feinstein nonetheless won by her narrowest margin since 1994.  But it was the House races where Republican blood really got spilled, with no fewer than six Republican-held seats flipping.  Incumbent Republican Jeff Denham from the Modesto-based CA-10, a long-time Democratic target, was finally flipped by Democrat Josh Harder.  Republican Steve Knight from CA-25 in northern Los Angeles County was defeated by Democrat Katie Hill.  But one of the most remarkable stories of the election was the Republican decimation in Orange County, formerly the conservative heartland and home to Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, where four seats flipped to the Democrats.  In a race just called, Democrat Gil Cisneros beat Republican challenger Young Kim in the open seat for CA-39 centered in Garden Grove.  Republican freshman Mimi Walters was defeated by Democrat Katie Porter in CA-45.  Veteran Republican Dana Rohrabacher of the Huntington Beach-centered CA-48 was taken out by Democrat Harley Rouda by a healthy 6 points.  And the open seat vacated by Darrell Issa in the Irvine-area CA-49 flipped Democrat as expected with Mike Levin prevailing by 11 points.  Adding insult to injury, the election night tabulation showed a split decision with three Republicans leading in these races.  But for several cycles now, the late-tabulated vote rolls in for weeks to come and doesn't get counted until the end of November or even December, and the late-tabulated vote has historically been overwhelmingly Democratic.  Some of the Republicans foolishly believed they had won and were publicly embarrassed when the late-counted vote rolled in and snatched their would-be victories away from them.  It's exceptionally poor campaign management for these GOP candidates to have not been told in advance to hang back before putting themselves out there with an expectation of victory.  Anyway, the California Congressional delegation now skews towards Democrats by a stunning 45-8 margin....and they came within 1 point of taking out Republican David Valadao from Bakersfield as well, suggesting the potential exists to render the California GOP even more irrelevant in 2020 and beyond.  Again though, I don't think it serves the Democrats well from an image standpoint that nearly a quarter of their national House delegation comes from California.

Colorado--Another state that seems to be trending increasingly away from "battleground" status and more towards being a straight-up blue state is Colorado.  The Democrats have already held the Governor's office for three terms but former Congressman Jared Polis just made it a fourth, winning by an impressive 10 points against a credible Republican challenger, hanging onto pretty much the entire Democratic coalition in metropolitan Denver and throughout the Rockies.  And Congressional Republican Mike Coffman from the southern and eastern Denver suburbs in CO-06 has been a white whale for Democrats for several cycles now, but the Dems finally got him with Coffman being felled by Democrat Jason Crow in an 11-point blowout.

Connecticut--Democrat Dan Malloy was one of the most unpopular Governors in the country at the end of his second term, but even against that headwind, tribalism prevailed and the Democrats held the Connecticut statehouse for a third term with Ned Lamont prevailing by 3 points over Republican challenger Bob Stefanowski.  But that race was at least close.  In the Senate race, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy won a second term by more than 20 points.  The all-Democratic Congressional delegation also held with all five Democrats handily re-elected.

Delaware--As expected, three-term Democratic Senator Tom Carper got a fourth term, prevailing by 22 points.  But it was interesting how even in Delaware, the tribal fault lines are becoming more visible.  Most of the state's population lives in New Castle County, but Carper has never had a problem in the past winning the southern two counties as well.  This year he only held onto Kent County by single digits while Sussex County in southern Delaware was won by Carper's token challenger by double digits.  The Democrats also held their single Congressional district in Delaware.

Florida--As has been the case a half dozen elections in the last 20 years, Democratic hearts were broken hardest in the Sunshine State this year, with two narrow, high-profile Republican victories in statewide races denying Democrats one of their brightest rising stars and stripping away a three-term Democratic Senator, both to be replaced by truly vile characters who somehow managed to defeat them.  Andrew Gillum, the Democratic mayor of Tallahassee, was poised to become the Cinderella story of the cycle, a young and muscularly progressive African American candidate who came from out of nowhere to win the Democratic nomination against higher-profile challengers.  Gillum had been leading in the polls against Trump-loving Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis for months and was running a flawless campaign.  Less inspiring was veteran Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, widely seen as phoning it in even amidst a stiff challenge from deep-pocketed GOP Governor and Medicare thief Rick Scott.  But Democrats seemed to have the momentum and the national wind at their backs in the final weeks of the campaign.  Still, having seen this movie so many times before in Florida, I continued to predict Republican victory in both races.  Regrettably, I was right.  DeSantis won by less than a half percent while Scott prevailed by less than 0.1%, just a little over 10,000 votes out of more than 8 million cast.  Florida is a Rube Goldberg contraption of moving parts when it comes to the political landscape, with several areas trending heavily Democrat such as Jacksonville and the Puerto Rican-heavy Orlando area, but other areas trending heavily Republican such as the Villages, the eastern coast running from Daytona Beach through Melbourne and Titusville, the Fort Myers area, and the northern suburbs and exurbs of Tampa-St. Petersburg, all destinations of conservative retirees moving from the Midwest to take advantage of Florida's income tax-free living.  With all of that said, the Democrats managed to lose both races because they couldn't consolidate the Miami-Dade Cuban community, an area that has otherwise been trending heavily Democratic, but where both DeSantis and Gillum managed margins in the 20-point range that were more common for a Democrat a decade ago compared to the 30-point margins Democrats won by in 2016.  If the Miami Cubans had shown up for DeSantis and Nelson the way they did for Hillary two years ago, both of them would be victorious.  Ironically, the two House seats that Democrats did flip from red to blue in Florida both came in the south Florida Cuban communities, with the geriatric former Clinton administration flack Donna Shalala winning an open seat in FL-27 and moderate Republican Carlos Curbelo being taken out in FL-26, the seat next door,  by Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell.  The other two Republican-held open seats that Democrats targeted, in the Daytona Beach and Lakeland areas, stuck with the GOP.  I don't think the soul-crushingly disappointing Florida results this year do anything to remove the state from the 2020 Presidential battleground, but it's pretty clear that if even one faction of the Democrats' diverse Florida coalition isn't firing on all cylinders, they have no chance of winning statewide, so there is zero margin for error.

Georgia--Slightly less disappointing than Florida but still a painful near-miss was its neighbor to the north, the Peach State.  It was abundantly clear that Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp was deploying some of the shadiest methods possible to use his office to remove unfavorable voters from the state rolls in his attempt to win the Governor's race, but it's also probably likely that his doing so mobilized more voters and probably made the race closer than it would have been.  And it was close, with Kemp beating progressive African-American State Senator Stacy Abrams by less than 2 points.  And more relevant to Georgia specifically, Kemp ended up with 50.2%, only about 10,000 above the threshold for which point there would have been a runoff.  The good news for Democrats is that it appears Abrams may have been only one cycle ahead of the point where Georgia is winnable for a Democrat, even a liberal one, as demographic change in metropolitan Atlanta has been occurring at dizzying speed, with overwhelmingly Republican Cobb and Gwinnett counties now appearing to be trending heavily blue.  And it was Congressional races in those aforementioned counties where Democrats were also insurgent, victorious in one with the second race being one of only two seats nationally that is not yet called.  For all the hype about the 2017 special election for GA-06 with Democrat Jon Ossoff coming short of beating Republican Karen Handel, it was another Democrat who got it done this year.  Lucy McBath had a narrow one-point victory over Handel in the district previously held by Newt Gingrich and Tom Price, to give some indication of how dramatic the demographic change is in Cobb County.  In neighboring GA-07 in Gwinnett County, Republican incumbent Rob Woodall holds a 0.2% (around 400 votes) lead over Democratic challenger Carolyn Boudreaux, and it's still possible the late-breaking provisionals could catapult Boudreaux to victory.  While Democrats didn't get the victory at the top they so desired here, it's entirely reasonable to believe Georgia could be in the 2020 Presidential battleground after the solid showing they did get.

Hawaii--The Aloha State preserved its reputation as the bluest state in the nation this year with more landslide Democratic victories.  Governor David Ige was considered a dead man walking earlier this year in the only election that matters in Hawaii...the Democratic primary.  But he managed to survive a serious challenge from Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa in that primary and was just re-elected to a second term by a 29-point margin.  In the Senate race, Democrat Mazie Hirono scored a second term against token Republican opposition by an even more spectacular 42-point margin. With Hawaii being a one-party state, it means a lot of politicians who aren't exactly heterodox in their ideological affiliations can get elected as Democrats, which is true of both members of the state's House delegation....conservative Democrat Ed Case, a guy who has had more lives than Shirley McClain, now back in Congress after a 12-year hiatus, and Syria-defending Tulsi Gabbard in the other Hawaii seat.  But the Republicans did have one big win in Hawaii this year.....in that they now have a single Senator in the state Senate, which is now 24-1 Democrat after being 25-0 Democrat for the past few years.

Idaho--The Gem State continues being as red as Hawaii is blue with the Republicans retaining the statehouse for yet another term.  Outgoing GOP Governor Butch Otter served three terms and now his Lieutenant Governor Brad Little is taking the reins, winning by 22 points over Native American Democrat Paulette Jordan.  Republicans also held both of their House seats.  But there was a wrinkle in the narrative as a ballot measure expanding Medicaid in Idaho, something which Republican lawmakers refused to do, passed with more than 60% of the vote.  A similar measure passed in other deep red states, which shows how out of step the "small government" narrative is with today's downscale Republican base.

Illinois--If anybody lost by winning on November 6th, it was Democrat J.B. Pritzger, the winner of the Illinois gubernatorial election who now gets to govern the most ungovernable state in the country, which is mired deep in a financial hole after decades of mismanagement from a long line of former Governors, many of whom are now serving prison time for their corruption.  Pritzger had been leading in the polls by around 25 points against unpopular Republican Governor Bruce Rauner, who had proven himself the latest Governor not up to the job in his single term.  I was curious to see how comprehensive Pritzger's victory would end up being, and the verdict was....not very.  Pritzger ended up winning by around 15 points, and much like Hillary's 2016 win in Illinois, his coalition was an almost entirely Chicagoland phenomenon,   On one hand, it's no small feat for a Democrat to be winning formerly GOP strongholds like Du Page and Kane counties in the Chicago suburbs, but for an incumbent as incompetent as Rauner to manage to run strong just about everywhere downstate is indicative of how firm the tribal realignment is both in Illinois and nationally.  Even the Mississippi River Valley counties along the Iowa border that held out for Obama in 2012 appear to mostly be gone now, along with the northeastern St. Louis suburbs.  These fault lines held for the four battleground House races as well, with two Democrats picking up Republican-held seats in the Chicago suburbs (Sean Casten defeating Peter Roskam by nearly 6 points in IL-06 and Lauren Underwood defeating Randy Hultgren by 4 points in IL-14) while Republican incumbents hung on downstate (Republican Rodney Davis prevailing by 4 points in his Springfield-area IL-13 district and Republican Mike Bost beating top Democratic recruit Brendan Kelly by nearly 6 points in IL-12 centered in the St. Louis suburbs and Carbondale).

Indiana--At one point in September, it seemed as though endangered, accidental Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly was well-positioned to win a second term over Republican legislator Mike Braun, but after the Kavanaugh hearings, polls were all over the place on Donnelly's standing.  It turns out the polls showing Donnelly in trouble were right, and that was clear when the earliest returns were rolling in from rural Indiana on election night which showed Donnelly vastly underperforming his 2012 numbers.  Braun ended up winning by nearly 6 points, a larger margin than just about anybody predicted, reinforcing that the Hoosier State's brief flirtation with Democrats in 2006 and 2008 is definitely over for the foreseeable future.  The Democrats have ceded the most turf along the Ohio River Valley in southern Indiana, which used to be one of the Dems only toeholds in the state.  There was some outside hope that a couple Republican-held House districts could fall in a Democratic wave, but those races weren't even close and the Republicans held their 7-2 Congressional delegation.

Iowa--A much more split decision this election cycle came from the Hawkeye State where the Democrats appeared to be in the catbird seat to flip the statehouse with Democrat Fred Hubbell leading Republican incumbent Kim Reynolds in most polls.  But as the results rolled in on election night, it was clear that Trump's Iowa coalition was holding together very well and Reynolds was steamrolling Hubbell in most of the rural eastern Iowa counties that were the core of the Democrats' Iowa coalition for a generation.  In the end, Reynolds won by a relatively convincing 3 points, limiting Hubbell's victories to Iowa's small cities.  On the other side of the coin, Democrats managed to oust two Republican incumbents in Congressional races, but even those races weren't quite as good of news for Democrats as they seemed on the surface.  Democrat Abby Finkenauer beat two-term conservative Republican incumbent Rod Blum by 5 points in IA-01 in northeastern Iowa, but again, her coalition was centered in a few population centers while the Obama-voting rural areas in the district stood by Blum, a troubling sign for her ability to hold the district if current trendlines prevail.  Ditto in IA-03 where Democrat Cindy Axne defeated Republican incumbent David Young by 2 points in the state's southwestern quadrant, but in the 16-county district, Axne's victory came because of a single county (Polk County, home to most of metro Des Moines where she ran up the score), again putting into question her ability to hold the seat in a future cycle where upscale suburbs aren't quite so monolithic in their support for a Democrat.  Meanwhile, the Democrats' top target in the country was ultraconservative Republican Steve King in rural northwestern Iowa, and there were plenty of indications that they made have found the right candidate at the right time to beat him....but King nonetheless prevailed by 3 points over Democratic challenger J.D. Scholten in IA-04, a district that has trended more and more Republican like most of rural America in the last decade, and it's hard to see a better situation to take King out than what they had this year.  The statewide outcome was not definitive enough to suggest Iowa won't be part of the 2020 Presidential battleground, but it doesn't seem too controversial to suggest that at this time, Trump looks like a heavy favorite in the state.

Kansas--After several years of spectacularly incompetent governance at the hands of former Republican Governor Sam Brownback, Republicans were on the ropes in the Sunflower State and their 2018 gubernatorial nominee was controversial hard-right Secretary of State Kris Kobach.  In a one on one race, Democratic challenger Laura Kelly was thought to have a clear advantage, but independent candidate Greg Orman was splitting the anti-Kobach vote and it seemed like a long shot to me that anybody but Kobach would prevail under the circumstances.  But the long shot came to fruition, with Orman's support thinning at the end and consolidating around Kelly.  The Democrat ended up winning by more than 4 points and held Kobach to 43% of the vote.  It was a split decision in the state's two battleground House races.  Democrat Sharice Davids unseated Republican Congressman Kevin Yoder by an impressive 9 points in KS-03, the increasingly Democratic-leaning district centered in the upscale Kansas City suburbs.  In the more rural Topeka-based KS-02 next door, Democrat Paul Davis came up 2 points short of winning the open seat won by Republican Steve Watkins.  Still, a rare good night for Kansas Democrats.

Kentucky--There were no gubernatorial or Senate races in the Bluegrass State this year, but there was one high-profile House race where decorated Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath was the Democratic candidate straight out of central casting facing off against Republican incumbent Andy Barr in the Lexington-based KY-06, the only "swing" district in Kentucky.  It's unclear whether a high-profile statewide race would have helped or hurt McGrath's chances, but she fell 3 points short of beating Barr for the same reason that so many other Democrats came up short on November 6th....she got killed in rural areas, even those that were competitive for Democrats up until the last few years.  I hope she runs again, because with Democratic Lexington and Frankfurt growing while the rural areas shrink, the math will at some point be on her side.  The Republicans won all of the remaining Kentucky seats except for the deep blue Louisville-based KY-03.

Louisiana--There were few states with as little going on as the Pelican State this cycle, with no gubernatorial or Senate races.  The Republicans safely held their 5-1 Congressional advantage without breaking a sweat.

Maine--There have been ample signs of Maine becoming more conservative in recent years.  The 2010 victory of Tea Party Republican Governor Paul Le Page could be dismissed as the accidental result of a divided opposition where a third-party contender allowed Le Page to sweep in with a 37% plurality, but when Le Page was surprisingly re-elected with 48% of the vote four years later, and then Donald Trump captured the apportioned ME-02 electoral vote in 2016, the signs were mounting that the state was shifting after a generation of trending blue.  But in 2018, Maine swung back to the left with the open gubernatorial seat vacated by Le Page now swinging to Democrat Janet Mills, who prevailed over Republican challenger Shawn Moody by nearly 8 points.  In the Senate race, Independent Angus King, who caucuses with the Democrats, was re-elected by a 19-point margin in a three-candidate field.  But it was the House race in the aforementioned ME-02 where one of the most unusual and controversial verdicts of the night was rendered.  Because of the widespread third-party candidacies being as consequential as they've been in shaping Maine elections over the years, a ballot initiative was put forward a couple of years ago to enact the extremely complicated "Ranked Choice Voting", and the consequence of that initiative swung its first election on November 6th.  Republican incumbent Bruce Poliquin won the election night count by about 700 votes, but when ranked choice votes were tabulated in the ensuing week, it ended up being Democratic challenger Jared Golden who prevailed by 1 percentage point.  I guess I'm happy for the win, but I'm yet to be sold on ranked-choice voting and don't think I'd care to see it expand beyond Maine.  I don't know what the answer is to get majority government and avoid 37% winners from being able to take office, but I also don't like that the person who gets fewer votes is able to win.  We already have one Electoral College and that's enough!

Maryland--Democratic Senator Ben Cardin got his biggest victory yet running for his third term, scoring a 65% margin and managing some wins even in the Eastern Shore counties where Democrats have generally been slipping.  But it was a different story in the Governor's race where popular Republican incumbent Larry Hogan, who benefited from a weak Democratic challenger in 2014, got a weak Democratic challenger again this year with former NAACP Chairman Ben Jealous putting up a limp effort and managed to lose the deeply blue state of Maryland by 13 points.  Hogan even managed to get over 30% in heavily black Baltimore and Prince George's County, but it's fair to point out that being a Republican Governor is primarily an administrative position in a state like Maryland where Democrats hold supermajorities in the legislature, which makes it relatively easy to be popular.  The Democrats maintained their 7-1 majority in the Congressional delegation.

Massachusetts--A similar story played out in the Bay State as to what was seen in Maryland.  Democratic incumbent Elizabeth Warren got 61% against her token GOP challenger, holding a seat where I suspect she'd have seen greater erosion of support had Hillary won in 2016.  On the other hand, moderate Republican Governor Charlie Baker kicked butt in his quest for a second term, outperforming Warren and winning nearly 2-1, his popularity holding for similar reasons as Hogan's in Maryland in that his duties are primarily administrative.  The Democrats maintained their 9-0 dominance of Massachusetts' Congressional delegation for yet another cycle, an all-Democratic slate that has held together since 1996.

Michigan--It can't be denied that the Democrats had a good year in the Wolverine State and it appears less likely after November 6th that Trump is well-positioned to repeat his stunning victory in the state from 2018...but not entirely out of the question for reasons I'll get into.  Democrat Gretchen Whitmer coasted to victory in the gubernatorial race, beating Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette by more than 9 points as a partial rebuke to two terms of Republican Rick Snyder's controversial governance.  Less impressive was Democrat Debbie Stabenow's underwhelming 6-point victory for her fourth term to the Senate.  Nobody expected this race to be competitive and Stabenow phoned it in against a challenger who struck me right away as a quality candidate, African American veteran and self-made businessman John James.  While this wasn't James' year, he still outperformed just about everybody's expectations getting 46% of the vote, and I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see him challenge freshman Democrat Gary Peters for the 2020 Senate race.  It was Stabenow's weakest performance since her original victory in 2000 against an incumbent and it was striking how much rural territory she ceded, particularly in the northern two-thirds of the state.  Even Whitmer, who won by a larger margin, was still wiped out on the Upper Peninsula and the northern half of the "glove", all places where Stabenow cleaned up in 2006 and 2012, and where Gary Peters did pretty well even in 2014.  This is ultimately why I think Trump could still make Michigan competitive in 2020, as he's fully realigned just about every square inch of rural America, even long-standing Democratic areas like Bay City, Michigan, and could overwhelm the Democrats' coalition again if their grasp on the suburbs softens.  But the suburbs saved the day for the statewide Democrats and helped the Dems pick up two heavily suburban House battlegrounds in the state.  Democrat Elissa Slotkin beat Republican incumbent Mike Bishop by an impressive 4 point in the Lansing-centered MI-08 while the open Republican seat in MI-11, representing upscale northwestern Detroit suburbs, went for Democrat Haley Stevens by more than 6 points.  Republicans Fred Upton and Tim Walberg, whose districts are in less urban-suburban areas, both held on by modest margins.

Minnesota--At the statewide level, the Gopher State delivered big-time for Democrats.  The resignation of Al Franken in the wake of the Roger Stone hit job against him meant that there were two Senate races on the ballot in Minnesota this year.  Democrat Amy Klobuchar is an institution in Minnesota and won her third term by 24 points, still dominating but as expected less comprehensively than her 30-point win in 2012.  In the other Senate race, appointed Senator Tina Smith won the special election to fill out the last two years of Franken's seat, prevailing by nearly 11 points.  And in the open gubernatorial seat to replace Democrat Mark Dayton, southern Minnesota's Democratic Congressman Tim Walz had a very decisive victory of his own, prevailing by nearly 12 points over Republican challenger Jeff Johnson, but Walz may have had a harder fight had Johnson not beaten former Governor Tim Pawlenty in the GOP primary.  It was mostly a Democratic rout on the surface, and indeed Democrats won all the constitutional office races and have kept alive their streak of winning every statewide race for six consecutive cycles.  But it wasn't all rainbows and unicorns for Minnesota Democrats as their fortunes continued to slide outstate.  I was surprised that even Amy Klobuchar ceded substantial turf from her 85-county landslide in 2012, and the other statewide Democrats fared much worse outstate, their victories confined almost entirely to the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area and a few college towns.  And that weakness was felt in the outstate House battlegrounds.  Democrats managed to defeat two Republican incumbents in the metro area, with Angie Craig defeating freshman GOP incumbent Jason Lewis by 5 points in the south Twin Cities suburbs-based MN-02 and Democrat Dean Phillips really laid the hurt on five-term GOP incumbent Erik Paulsen in an 11-point landslide.  But it was a different story in the three outstate seats held by long-time Democrats, two of whom were retiring.  In Walz's MN-01, Democrat Dan Feehan at least kept it close, losing a squeaker by less than a half point against a relatively weak but still victorious GOP challenger in Jim Hagedorn.  Given the increasing Democratic tilt of fast-growing Rochester and Mankato, Feehan may well want to try here again in 2020, but Hagedorn's gains in the rural counties of the district were striking.  In the vast North Woods MN-08 district covering the state's rural northeastern quadrant, it was easier to predict the fall of Democratic control following the retirement of incumbent Rick Nolan.  The only surprise was that the GOP's strong recruit Pete Stauber ended up winning by less than 6 points when a bigger blowout was predicted in the fast GOP-trending district.  But there ended up being a surprise fifth competitive seat in Minnesota with the dean of the state's House delegation--conservative Democrat Collin Peterson--saw his margin shrink once again in his rural western Minnesota district.  Trump's coattails held Peterson to a 5-point win against a token challenger in 2016, but it was considered unlikely the same guy would be competitive against Peterson this year...until he was, holding Peterson to a 4-point win this cycle and showing how vulnerable Peterson will be if he seeks re-election in MN-07 in 2020.  Even in Minnesota, a state where rural areas held out for Democrats longer than most places, the Trump realignment is in full swing, and while it's harder to see how Trump could swing the state after the big metro area rebuke, it's easier to see how the state becomes vulnerable down the line if the Twin Cities suburbs ever swing back to their previous levels of even partisanship.  Also a bit embarrassing as a Minnesota native that the only two House seats in the country that swung from blue to red were in Minnesota.

Mississippi--Minnesota was not the only state to have two Senate races this year.  The retirement of veteran Republican Senator Thad Cochran earlier this year due to poor health opened up a special election to fill his Senate seat in addition to the regularly scheduled Senate race where Republican Roger Wicker sought a third term.  The inoffensive Wicker easily dispatched Democratic challenger David Baria by 20 points, but the special election race was more complicated as it was a jungle primary between two high-profile Republicans and one Democrat.  In the end, appointed Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith and Democrat Mike Espy, the former Secretary of Agriculture, were the top-two vote-getters and will face each other again in a runoff come November 27th.  Hyde-Smith has made some egregrious unforced errors in the past week that would have sunk a candidate under normal circumstances, but it'll take more than garden variety gaffes for a Republican to be vulnerable in conservative Mississippi in these polarized times, as proven when multiple credible accusations of child molestation only managed to hold Roy Moore to a narrow 50-48 loss in Alabama last year.   I'd be shocked if Espy got within 15 points of Hyde-Smith next week, but we'll see.  Meanwhile, Republicans maintained their 3-1 advantage in Mississippi's Congressional delegation on November 6th as well.

Missouri--One of the biggest heartbreakers for me on election night was seeing two-term Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill lose.  She was always one of my favorite Democratic Senators, wily enough to vote as a liberal but sell herself as a moderate, knowing exactly how to work the room with voters in her increasingly right-wing state.  But with Missouri lurching further to the right every cycle, I was still skeptical of her chances in holding off Republican Manchurian candidate and incompetent Attorney General Josh Hawley in her quest for a third term.  But in the closing weeks of the campaign, polls showed her getting a late burst of momentum.  Even at poll closing time on election night, exit polls showed McCaskill pulling off a narrow 50-48 win.  But as happens far too often, the exit polls were wrong and those rural Missouri numbers started rolling in with Trump-like margins that were just too high for McCaskill to overcome with her strongholds in Kansas City and St. Louis, the only Democratic enclaves left in Missouri as every other corner of the state has turned a crimson shade of red, with even much of suburban St. Louis now firmly in Republican hands.   For instance, it's hard to imagine former Democratic House leader Dick Gephardt being able to win in his old Congressional district in the southern St. Louis suburbs today.  McCaskill ended up losing by a decisive 6 points.  It's very hard to imagine a Democrat winning federal office in Missouri again given its lurch to the right.  It would have been hard to envision even 10 years ago that Missouri would one day be more Republican than neighboring Kansas, but I'd say we're there now.  The GOP held its 6-2 Congressional map as well, although Republican Ann Wagner in the upscale western St. Louis suburbs was held to an unexpectedly close 4-point margin in her MO-02 race.

Montana--One of the best survivor stories of the year was that of Democratic Senator Jon Tester, who prevailed by 3 points in a state Trump had won by 20 points only two years earlier.  Tester always won by narrow margins in the past, but for most of this cycle it appeared as though he'd finally have an easy win this time.  But by late summer, political gravity in our polarized times, along with a hard-hitting ad barrage reminding voters of Tester's relative liberalism, took its toll and Tester was in another nailbiter against GOP challenger Matt Rosendale.  And come election night, with demographically similar Senate races having flipped the GOP's way all night, it wasn't looking great for Tester.  In the middle of the night, it appeared he was gonna lose, but then it was announced that much of the Missoula, Helena, and Bozeman vote in counties listed as 100% reporting hadn't actually come in yet.  From that point forward, it was a Tester resurgence that ended up giving him 50.3% of the vote, the first time he's won with a majority.  It's remarkable that Democrats continue to find ways to win in Montana in these polarized times but Tester is the latest example that it can be done.  On the other hand, Democrats weren't so lucky in picking off Republican Greg Gianforte, the freshman Congressman from their at-large House district who body-slammed a reporter last year and was arrested for it.  Gianforte won by more than 4 points, so let's not give Montanans too much credit.

Nebraska--Even though the Cornhusker State has long been identified as one of the nation's foremost Republican strongholds, it's amazing to look back a generation ago and see how bipartisan it was with a trio of long-serving Democratic Senators and Governors.  Those days are definitely over now though as Nebraska seems impenetrably red at every level, a notion reinforced by this year's election results.  Republican Governor Pete Ricketts was always considered a cinch for re-election and cruised with an 18-point margin.  But based on her soft approval ratings, there was at least some speculation early on that freshman Republican Senator Deb Fischer might be vulnerable this year.  In the end, Fischer decimated Democratic challenger Jane Raybould by 20 points, more than what Ricketts won by.  The only positive sign for Nebraska Democrats is that both candidates won the two counties that are home to the state's biggest cities, Omaha and Lincoln.  Victories in Omaha and Lincoln alone won't get them anywhere close to a statewide win, but could at least help them become competitive locally, and that almost happened in the Omaha-based NE-02 this year, where Democratic candidate Kara Eastman exceed expectations and came within 3 points of defeating Republican Congressman Don Bacon.  She'd be wise to seek a rematch in 2020.

Nevada--Democrats have been on quite a roll in the Silver State this decade, aided by the SEIU machine put together by Harry Reid, and their ascent in the formerly red state continued this year with another series of impressive wins.  Nevada is the only state in the country where you can pretty much figure out the winner based on the early vote, since two-thirds of the vote comes in early and more than 80% of the population lives in two counties, meaning the turnout of registered Democrats and registered Republicans in those counties is extremely predictive.  It seemed like a done deal at the end of the early voting period that the Democratic Senate and gubernatorial candidates would prevail, and prevail they did.  Democratic Congresswoman Jacky Rosen unseated Republican incumbent Dean Heller by an impressive 5 points, a little better than the early vote suggested, indicating that the independents broke heavily for Rosen as well.  Meanwhile, in the open seat for the Governor's race, Democrat Steve Sisolak prevailed by 4 points over Republican Adam Laxalt, picking up a seat held for two terms by moderate Republican Governor Brian Sandoval.  Downballot, Democrats also defended their two quasi-vulnerable seats, with Rosen's vacant NV-03 seat in suburban Las Vegas with Democrat Susie Lee trouncing perennial GOP loser Danny Tarkanian by 8 points while Steven Horsford got his old NV-04 seat back by 8 points as well.  The Harry Reid machine buries the GOP once again, and with rapid racial diversification, it gets harder every cycle to imagine Nevada being considered a battleground state much longer as it's looking increasingly like a blue state.

New Hampshire--As the prospect of a massive Democratic wave grew in the late days of the 2018 campaign, it started to look possible that Republican Governor Chris Sununu could be felled, but it ended up being too heavy of a lift as Sununu prevailed by 7 points over Democratic challenger Molly Kelly.  But Democrats did have success in the state's two House races.  The NH-01 open seat in the eastern portion of the state vacated by erstwhile Democratic Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter stayed in Democratic hands with Chris Pappas prevailing by a healthy 9 points in the more conservative of the two New Hampshire districts.  Democratic incumbent Ann Kuster held on by an even stronger margin in the bluer western New Hampshire district.

New Jersey--Scandal-plagued Democratic Senator Bob Menendez served up some serious headwinds at the top of the ticket for his party, avoiding going to prison last year only because of a hung jury, but voters clearly decided they hated Trump more than they were disgusted by Menendez.  There was some indication that Menendez was in a real battle this year against rich guy GOP challenger Bob Hugin, but I never believed that in this environment the deep blue Garden State would vote for a Trump ally.  The incumbent got a third term by a solid 10-point margin, and despite his lack of genuine strength at the top of the ticket, the Democrats flipped a remarkable four of the remaining five Republican-held House seats and hung onto their quasi-vulnerable North Jersey seat held by Josh Gottheimer.  In the open NJ-11 seat based in exurban Morris County that was vacated by long-time Republican Rodney Frelinghuysen, Democrat Mikie Shirrell scored a commanding 13-point win.  Just to the south and west in NJ-07, another upscale suburban seat in North Jersey was flipped with Democrat Tom Malinowski unseating long-time GOP incumbent Leonard Lance by 5 points.  Moving to South Jersey, another Republican incumbent was felled, albeit in a much closer race, with Republican freshman Tom MacArthur losing his seat to Democratic challenger Andy Kim by 1 point in NJ-03, a district that stretches from the blue suburbs east of Philadelphia to the red coasts of Jersey Shore in Ocean County.  And on the far south side of Jersey near Atlantic City, a race that wasn't expected to be close ended up being a bit close.  The open NJ-02 seat long held by Republican Frank LoBiondo has been trending Republican, but Democratic state legislator Jeff Van Drew seemed like a perfect candidate to pick it up while his challenger Seth Grossman had a history of nationalist propaganda and was disavowed even by his party.  Even though Grossman never ran much of a campaign, Van Drew won by a surprisingly soft 6 points, and if the district keeps moving rightward, he might have a hard time hanging onto it moving forward.  Nonetheless, the Democrats now hold an incredible 11-1 advantage in the New Jersey Congressional delegation, with Chris Smith of NJ-04 being the only Republican left standing.  And to think they started the decade with a 6-6 even split in a court-drawn map that Dems originally thought screwed them but ended up proving itself pretty darn favorable.

New Mexico--The Land of Enchantment proved extremely enchanting for Democrats this year with a clean sweep of everything that could conceivably be considered competitive.  Former Governor and Libertarian Presidential candidate Gary Johnson's third party bid for a Senate seat fizzled badly and Democratic incumbent Martin Heinrich prevailed handily, winning 54% of the vote in a three-way race and running 23 points ahead of his Republican challenger.  The open gubernatorial race held by retiring Republican Susana Martinez flipped to blue as well with Albuquerque Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham prevailing by more than 14 points over Republican Congressman Steve Pearce.  It was a rout in the House races as well, with Lujan Grisham's heavily Hispanic NM-01 staying in Democratic hands decisively but Pearce's conservative seat in southern New Mexico not having staying his party's hands.  Democrat Xochitil Torres Small pulled off an upset in very challenging but Democratic-trending territory and prevailed by nearly 2 points, giving Democrats a clean 3-0 sweep of New Mexico House races.  Two decades ago, New Mexico was as swingy of a swing state as there is, but 20 years of demographic change have turned it a pretty deep shade of blue.

New York--Dominated by the eight million residents of New York City who are now more than 80% Democratic, it's virtually impossible to imagine a Republican winning statewide in the Empire State in the foreseeable future.  Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand ran away with another huge 2-1 victory in her race, and although it wasn't as geographically comprehensive as her 2012 win, she still held on to a lot of turf upstate that has been trending Republican in recent cycles, which was a bit surprising as she continues to cynically position herself as the most left-wing Senator in the nation.  Less comprehensive in his victory was Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, who won a third term with a dominating 22-point margin against GOP challenger Marc Molinaro, but the core of his victory was definitely in metropolitan New York City as the sea of red in the upstate counties more closely resembled a New York county map from the 70s or 80s.  Trump's unpopularity definitely provided Democrats an assist in the House races as well as they flipped three GOP-held seats.  The most surprising was Democrat Max Rose, who unseated Republican freshman Dan Donovan by 6 points in the Staten Island-centered NY-11 that had been the GOP's only toehold in New York City.  An impressive campaign helped Democrat Antonio Delgado prevail in the Poughkeepsie area and unseat Republican John Faso in NY-19.  And a particularly foul Republican incumbent in the rural central New York-based NY-22 helped a Democrat sneak in with a win of less than 1 point in a Trumpy district likely to be a one-term rental, with Republican Claudia Tenney unseated by Democrat Anthony Brindisi.  A few Republicans upstate and on Long Island considered to be potentially vulnerable in the event of a huge Democratic wave all prevailed, although some by modest margins, particularly John Katko in the Syracuse-based NY-24 and Chris Collins in NY-27.  Collins holds the most Republican district in the state in the Buffalo and Rochester exurbs, but prevailed by only 1 point.  His victory was still pretty remarkable though considering he's under indictment and will likely be in prison before his term ends.  Nonetheless, a solid year for New York Democrats as they regained some turf they've lost in the last few cycles.

North Carolina--There were no Senate or gubernatorial races in North Carolina, which may have hurt base turnout for Democrats.  Apparently Democrats made some significant inroads in cracking the heavily gerrymandered GOP supermajorities in the state legislature, but they couldn't crack the GOP gerrymander in the Congressional races, where Republicans held off three challenges to maintain their 10-3 advantage in the Congressional delegation.  Republican incumbents George Holding of NC-02 and Ted Budd of NC-13 held on by mid-single digits in their respective districts along the I-85 corridor, but Democrats' best prospects for gaining a seat was in the NC-09 race in suburban Charlotte where Republican Congressman Robert Pettinger was beaten in the primary by evangelical conservative Mark Harris.  The Democrats had a top recruit in Marine veteran Dan McCready but he came up short by less than a half a percent (fewer than 1,000 votes) in the gerrymandered district.  Hopefully he tries again in 2020, because two years of additional demographic change and Presidential year turnout could prove to be the difference.

North Dakota--I still don't quite understand what went so wrong in this Senate race.  Only last spring, Republican Congressman Kevin Cramer had to have his arm twisted to run against Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp after originally saying no, as the Republicans were apoplectic about the likelihood of Heitkamp skating to re-election without Cramer running.  Only a few months later, reports about bad internal polling for Heitkamp started leaking and were soon confirmed by public polling showing her down double digits.  The Kavanaugh vote and a campaign gaffe compounded Heitkamp's growing vulnerability and this race was a foregone conclusion as a Republican flip by mid-October, even with a backdrop of Cramer making repeated vile comments that would have ended Republican campaigns before the Trump era.  In the end, I wonder if any generic Republican plucked from the backbench would have done just as well as Cramer.  North Dakota certainly fits the profile of a state that has realigned into Trumpland and has become unwinnable for Democrats.  Cramer ended up winning by nearly 11 points, with Heitkamp underperforming her 2012 numbers (when she eked out a very impressive 1 point victory) everywhere except Fargo and the Indian reservations.  Much like Nebraska, it appears North Dakota's long flirtation with bipartisanship is unequivocally over, but it's a real shame that a Senator as great as Heitkamp was the final casualty, particularly at the hands of a sleazebag like Cramer.

Ohio--Aside from Florida, the biggest heartbreaker for Democrats in the 2018 midterms was the Buckeye State, where some signs pointed to a decisive Democratic comeback up and down the ballot.  Two-term Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown, often viewed as the most astute left populist in the Senate and a perfect Democratic emissary for Middle American angst, seemed poised to win a landslide re-election against a weak Republican challenger.  Brown did manage to be the only Democrat to win in Ohio's statewide races, but only by 6 points.  Meanwhile, polls seemed to be trending in the direction of Democrat Richard Cordray to pick up the Ohio statehouse after two terms of Republican John Kasich, but it ended up being stale old former GOP Senator Mike DeWine who prevailed over Cordray by a decisive 4 points.  So what went wrong?  The same thing that went wrong in so many Middle American states.....the rural areas consolidated around the party of Trump, with blue-collar counties in southern and eastern Ohio that were once considered bellwethers apparently realigning as Republican strongholds.  And since the suburbs in Ohio tend to be more downscale and more conservative than suburban areas in other states, Democrats can't just replace the blue-collar voters they're losing in the same way they can in a state like Minnesota.  Pundits now seem to be writing off the perennial swing state of Ohio as even being part of the national battleground after the disappointing November 6th showing.  Perhaps they're right from a tactical standpoint, but Democrats leaving Ohio for dead really sends a terrible message to the demographics that built the Democratic Party and were twice responsible for electing Barack Obama.  The Republicans put together a brutal gerrymander at the beginning of this decade that has kept intact their 12-4 House delegation for years, and Democrats failed to crack that again this cycle, with a weak Democratic opponent losing by nearly 6 points in the Cincinnati-based OH-01 and Democrat Danny O'Connor falling 4 points short in the suburban Columbus seat where he got even closer in the special election a few months earlier.

Oklahoma--Outgoing Republican Governor Mary Fallin is so unpopular that Democrats had their best chance in a generation to win the Oklahoma Governor's race this year.  But tribalism prevailed in the staunchly conservative Sooner State, and in the end, it wasn't even close with Republican Kevin Stitt beating former Democratic Attorney General Drew Edmondson by 12 points.  Back in 2004, Democrat Brad Carson got within 12 points of a Senate seat in Oklahoma, but did so with a dramatically different coalition, winning dozens of rural counties in southern and eastern Oklahoma.  Those counties almost all went double digits for the Republican Stitt in 2018, with Democrat Edmondson's support coming from metropolitan Oklahoma City and a spattering of college towns that were all heavily Republican a generation ago.  Even in Oklahoma, the political landscape has fundamentally realigned in a relatively short period of time.  But that realignment provided Democrats one pleasant surprise with the ousting of Republican Congressman Steve Russell in Oklahoma City-based OK-05 at the hands of Democrat Kendra Horn who won by 1 point.  She may have a hard time holding the seat, but it was one of three big surprises in the House seats that Democrats were able to pick off nationally.

Oregon--Democrats have held the Oregon statehouse for decades, and it seems like every four years the race tightens to toss-up territory but the Democrat ends up prevailing by a modest margin.  It was the same story this year with Democratic incumbent Kate Brown fending off a solid challenger in Republican Knute Buehler by 6 points, putting together the usual Portland, Corvallis, and Eugene-centered coalition that seems increasingly impenetrable as the state's northwestern quadrant just keeps on filling up with liberals while the rest of the state stagnates.  At some point, the perfect storm is likely to materialize and break the Democrats' hold on the Oregon Governor's mansion, but it wasn't meant to be this year.  Democrats also easily held their 4-1 majority in the state's Congressional delegation.

Pennsylvania--The Keystone State seemed groomed for perhaps the biggest Democratic wave in the nation this year, with pending landslides by incumbents in the Governor and Senate races along with a newly redrawn map of Congressional districts widely viewed as a massive gift for Democrats who'd been dealing with a brutal Republican gerrymander since 2011.  In the end, the wave didn't live up to its full potential.  Democratic Senator Bob Casey won a third term by a 13-point margin against GOP Congressman Lou Barletta while incumbent Democratic Governor Tom Wolf trounced his Republican challenger Scott Wagner by an even larger 17-point margin, but their victories didn't come with coattails substantial enough to flip more than what was already a done deal in the multiple Congressional battlegrounds.  The new PA-05 and PA-06 districts in the Philadelphia suburbs were made dramatically more Democratic in the court redraw and Democrats Mary Gay Scanlon and Christy Houlahan coasted to double-digit victories in their respective races.  The new Allentown-centered PA-07 saw the retirement of moderate Republican Charlie Dent, and that district also flipped to Democrat Susan Wild by 10 points.  And in the Pittsburgh suburbs, the early 2018 special election victor Conor Lamb was pitted against Republican incumbent Keith Rothfus in the more Democratic favorable PA-17, and Lamb trounced Rothfus by 12 points.  But by doing so, Lamb abandoned the more conservative PA-14 seat that he won in the special election and it flipped decisively to the GOP as predicted.  Beyond that, there were three "reach" seats where Democrats thought they might be able to pick off Republicans in a perfect storm wave.  They got close in the two of the three, including the blue-collar, Erie-centered PA-16 where Republican Mike Kelly prevailed by 4 points and in the new Harrisburg-based PA-10 where incumbent Republican Scott Perry held on by 3 points, but the GOP held on in all three.  It's hard to say that netting three House seats is a bad night, but Democrats were secretly hoping for five.  Still, the GOP held 12 of 18 seats before November 6th but the Democrats hold 10 of 18 now, so a pretty good night.  As with everywhere though, the big Democratic win was a mostly cosmopolitan and white-collar phenomenon as even with resounding statewide victories, the Democrats lost further ground in the state's white working class enclaves like Johnstown, Washington, and Wilkes-Barre.  That could potentially keep Trump in the game in 2020 for repeating his stunning Pennsylvania victory two years ago.

Rhode Island--Democratic DNA runs deep in the Ocean State and the party maintains its long-standing grip on Rhode Island politics even after a long line of corruption, mismanagement, and Trump-friendly white ethnic demographics.  The Democrats held strong again this year, even if some minor level of Trump realignment is evident even here.  Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse's 23-point margin of victory certainly scored him a decisive third term, but was still less dominant than in 2012.  Controversial pension-thieving Democratic Governor Gina Raimondo benefited from a three-candidate field and slipped in with 41% of the vote in 2014, but was re-elected to a second term with a much more decisive 16-point margin this year against the same Republican and independent opponents.  Both Democratic House members were re-elected with their usual landslides.

South Carolina--It seemed poised to be a pretty quiet night in South Carolina, with Nikki Haley's replacement Henry McMaster running for his first full gubernatorial term.  Indeed, McMaster prevailed by 8 points in his race, which is solid if unspectacular by Republican standards in the Palmetto State.  But the Democrat-trending Charleston area produced strong enough Democratic coattails to produce a surprise win in the coastal SC-01 Congressional district, where Republican Mark Sanford was defeated by a primary challenge from his right earlier this year.  GOP emissary Katie Arrington was undoubtedly as stunned as the rest of the country when she was beaten by a little more than 1 point by Democrat Joe Cunningham, who pulled off arguably the most unlikely Democratic flip in the country.  Cunningham may be a long shot to capture lightning in a bottle again in 2020, but with as fast as Charleston appearing to be going to the Democrats, it's possible he could win again.  Republicans' previous 6-1 majority in the state's Congressional district narrowed to 5-2 with Cunningham's win.

South Dakota--My long shot call from months back was that Democrats were well-positioned to pick up the South Dakota statehouse this year, after recent Republican scandals and fielding a great candidate in former rodeo king and current state Senator Billie Sutton.  And sure enough, Republican Congresswoman Kristi Noem, running against Sutton for the open seat, appeared to be caught napping when the polls were suddenly tied.  But come election night, tribalism prevailed and Noem pulled it out by a little more than 3 points.  What went wrong?  The coalition that repeatedly elected Democrats Tom Daschle, Tim Johnson, and Stephanie Herseth to federal office last decade just isn't as sturdy as it was then.  The previous blueprint to winning South Dakota required an inside straight of sweeping the East River farm counties along the I-29 corridor, modest wins in Sioux Falls, keeping it even in Mitchell and Watertown, holding down losses West River, and running up the score on the Indian reservations.  There was almost no margin for error with this coalition and it simply didn't hold together in its first test this decade, with a dozen or so small farm counties that were reliably Democratic in past competitive races going decisively for Noem this year.  Sutton managed to wrestle away the former GOP stronghold of Pierre, but it wasn't enough to offset reduced Democratic margins elsewhere.  Hard to see what more Sutton could have done, but he's a very young man and I hope he gives it another try.  And of course Noem's vacant House seat held for the GOP.

Tennessee--It certainly was a fun dream to imagine that Republican Bob Corker's vacant Senate seat could flip Democratic, and to his credit, Phil Bredesen kept this race competitive right until the end of the campaign.  Bredesen caught all the wrong breaks in the final month of the campaign though, with the Kavanaugh hearings and the migrant caravan story clearly hurting him.  Plus Republican challenger Marsha Blackburn never said anything crazy throughout the campaign, which Democrats had been counting on her to do based on her history.  Polling routinely undercounts Republican strength in Tennessee and such was the case again this year with Blackburn ending up with a clear 11-point win.  Most telling, however, was the story told by the county map.  When Hillary Clinton lost Tennessee by 26 points in 2016, she won three counties.  Bredesen got 15 points closer to victory than Hillary but still won nothing more than those same three counties!  He closed the gap considerably in the Memphis and Nashville suburbs, as well as mid-sized cities like Knoxville, Chattanooga, and Clarksville, but it was understood from the outset that Bredesen would still fall short if he couldn't win or trim the margins in Tennessee's considerable rural vote.  For decades up through 2006, Democrats could count on wins in a couple dozen rural counties along the Tennessee River Valley and in the Cumberland Plateau, long-standing Democratic strongholds going back to the TVA era, but those counties fell off the grid for Democrats during the Obama years.  Fast forward to 2018 and even the popular former Governor Bredesen lost every single one of them by double digits, making it very hard to imagine what a winning Democratic coalition in Tennessee would look like in the foreseeable future.  In the open-seat Governor's race, which was never thought to be competitive, Republican Bill Lee beat Democratic Nashville Mayor Karl Dean by 21 points, which may well be the baseline number for future races in the now ruby-red Volunteer State.  The Republicans handily held their 7-2 Congressional majority in the state.

Texas--For several years now, there's been chatter from the left about how the majority-minority Lone Star State was approaching a demographic tipping point where its long-standing conservative politics would be turned on its head.  I had never been convinced for a variety of reasons, including the perennially low turnout by Hispanics, the conservative flavor of a large share of the Hispanics who do vote, and the intensely pro-business Texas culture that's been attracting blistering numbers of conservatives from elsewhere in the country.  For the most part, I stand by that assessment even in the face of the tectonic shift towards Democrats seen in the last two election cycles in Texas.  After all, it's the anti-Trump Dallas debutantes who have primarily been driving Democratic momentum in 2016 and 2018 far more than nonwhite voters.  But whoever is responsible for the shift, the magnitude of the needle moving in Democrats' direction this year cannot be ignored, and Democratic Senate candidate Beto O'Rourke lived up to the hype and then some.  Republican Ted Cruz was re-elected by only a little more than 2 points, a skimpier margin than pretty much any Democrat imagined possible at any stage of Beto's candidacy.  Beto ran up the score in urban centers but also flipped suburban areas of Houston, Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio that used to be the pillars of Sun Belt conservatism, the home districts of right-wing Texas icons like Dick Armey and Tom DeLay.   Those declaring a "moral victory" are usually just putting lipstick on a pig, but in this case, Beto's insurgency may have seriously turned a corner and thrust Texas into the 2020 Presidential battleground.  And Beto had some coattails.  Republican Governor Greg Abbott was expected to win re-election in a landslide, but his 13-point win fell far short of expectations from the summer.  And two conservative Republican Congressmen were defeated in Democratic-trending suburbs, including John Culberson in suburban Houston's TX-07, beaten by a decisive 5 points by Democrat Lizzie Fletcher, and Pete Sessions of suburban Dallas' TX-32, beaten by Democratic challenger Colin Allred by almost 6 points.  Both of these races were considered key pick-up opportunities for Democrats, but a few other Republicans got scares even with the gerrymandered map that was drawn to protect them.  The closest call was Will Hurd in the suburban San Antonio-centered TX-23, who had a comfortable lead in the polls but ended up winning by less than a half point, but three additional Republican incumbents who were on few people's radars heading into election but won by low single digits, including John Carter of TX-31, Kenny Marchant of TX-23, and Michael McCaul of TX-10.  The realignment that appears to be taking hold may still be reversible as was the case with North Carolina's apparent shift leftward in 2008 that continues to stall out, but if the trend in Texas more closely resembles that of Virginia, the Republicans are in some deep trouble.  But even with Beto's strong showing and an apparent softening in Texas, it's worth noting that if the state's 200-plus rural counties had simply held serve with the margins Democrats used to get in 2006 and 2008 rather than precipitously decline for another decade, Beto would probably be Senator-elect right now.

Utah--With so many headlines coming out of this election, it's kind of remarkable how little ink has been spilled over the fact that a former Presidential nominee got elected as a freshman Senator.  In this case, retiring Republican Orrin Hatch's seat was won by Mitt Romney (who will be bringing his Massachusetts values to Washington by way of Utah???).  Romney is something of a legend in the majority-Mormon Beehive State, particularly after commandeering the 2002 Park City Winter Olympics, but it's worth pointing out that his 32-point victory over token Democratic challenger Jenny Wilson is substantially lower than what Romney won the state by in his 2012 Presidential run, and several points less than what Utah's other GOP Senator, Mike Lee, won re-election by in 2016.  Part of it may be a genuine protest vote against Trump, who's never been popular in Utah.  Trump's weakness also seems to have a played a role in taking out a Republican House incumbent.  Mia Love from Salt Lake City-centered UT-04 has been back and forth in a seesaw battle in one of the few House races still uncalled.  It looks as though she'd probably eke it out in the last few days, but as of this writing, her Democratic challenger Ben McAdams has pulled ahead by 700 votes, which is likely more than what's left to count.  The other three Republican Congressmen held on easily.

Vermont--In my final Senate predictions, I guessed that Bernie Sanders would win by the largest margin of any Senate candidate, but that prediction ended up not being true as Mazie Hirono of Hawaii got that honor.  Sanders won by a commanding 40-point margin over his token Republican challenger who won only a handful of very rural precincts in the northeast corner of the state, but believe it or not that was lower than what Sanders won by in 2012 when he was last up.  In the Governor's race, moderate Republican Phil Scott had a comparative landslide of his own against transgender Democratic challenger Christine Hallquist, winning by 15 points, an impressive margin for a Republican in deep-blue Vermont.

Virginia--Democrats had a huge tailwind this year in the already blue-trending Old Dominion state, with the Republicans nominating hard-right nationalist Corey Stewart for the Senate race, which was the only statewide race on the ballot in Virginia this year.  Democratic incumbent and former Vice Presidential nominee Tim Kaine had a layup to win his second term and prevailed by 16 points, but it was still remarkable looking at the county map and seeing that Kaine pretty much only took the same counties that Hillary and Ralph Northam won, and little else, with the rural areas being so far gone that they even voted for Stewart.  But the GOP weakness at the top of the ticket was still enough to swing three of the four House battlegrounds that Democrats were targeting.  Democrat Elaine Luria unseated Republican incumbent Scott Taylor by 2 points in the Virginia Beach-area VA-02 seat.  Democrat Jennifer Wexton handily dispatched vulnerable Manassas-area Republican Barbara Comstock in a 12-point rout in VA-10.  And strong Democratic recruit Abigail Spanberger snuffed out Tea Party Republican Dave Brat, who took out GOP House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in 2014, in the VA-07 seat centered around the Richmond suburbs which a generation ago was a hotbed of Reagan conservatism.  Spanberger beat Brat by 2 points.  The only of the four races where Democrats fell short was their biggest "reach" district, an open seat in mostly rural central Virginia retained by the GOP with their candidate Denver Riggleman, writer of Bigfoot porn (seriously!).  But after picking up those four seats, Democrats now hold an impressive 7-4 advantage in Virginia's House delegation.

Washington--Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell won her fourth term in the Evergreen State against a token newslady GOP challenger, and while her 17-point victory was clearly significant, it's several points below her 2012 margin.  Perhaps low turnout due to the lack of contested races on the ballot in Washington this year was part of it, but a few of the blue-collar counties in the state's southwest side that have long been Democratic strongholds turned red this year, suggesting the rural realignment is ongoing even in the Pacific Northwest.  Democrats only flipped one of the three targeted House races at least partially because of that rural realignment.  Retiring Republican Dave Reichert's WA-08 seat in the upscale Seattle suburbs finally turned blue after multiple years of Democratic efforts to flip it, with Democrat Kim Schrier winning by 5 points.  But their efforts to upset Kathy McMorris Rodgers, a member of GOP House leadership, in her Republican-leaning eastern Washington district fell more than 9 points short, while Republican Jamie Herrera-Buetler of WA-03, home to the aforementioned southwestern portion of the state with the Democratic counties that turned against Maria Cantwell this year, also hung on by 5 points.  The Democrats nonetheless have an impressive 7-3 advantage in the Washington state House delegation.

West Virginia--Conservative Democratic Senator Joe Manchin was widely considered to have a lead outside the bounds of the battleground, and was rarely mentioned late in the campaign as being vulnerable, but with Trump's popularity and the dark red hue the Mountain State has taken on, I wasn't at all convinced that Manchin would even end up staving off Republican challenger Patrick Morrisey let alone win by the double-digit landslide predicted.  Sure enough, Manchin won by only 3 points and was held to below 50%.  His slim victory came the same way just about every other winning Democrat in America pulled it out....by running up the score in the cities.  In this case, West Virginia's cities are pretty small ball population centers like Charleston, Huntington, Wheeling, Morgantown, and Parkersburg, but the rural coal counties that were the Democratic base for Manchin and most Democrats before him flipped to Morrisey this time, along with most of the other rural counties in the eastern side of the state.   It was nonetheless incredibly impressive that Manchin won at all in a state where Trump won by 42 points and has his highest approval rating in the country.  It shows what a skilled politician Manchin is, but also that his re-election is likely to be the last Democratic victory for a federal office that I will see in West Virginia for the rest of my lifetime.  The three House races all held for Republicans, including high-profile Army Democrat Richard Ojeda, who generated national headlines for his raging left-populist campaign in the heart of West Virginia coal country.  But in the end, Ojeda lost the open WV-03 seat to a lightweight GOP hack by nearly 13 points.

Wisconsin--Democrats had a mostly strong showing in the Badger State this month.  Incumbent Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin was re-elected by an 11-point margin, but the big trophy of the night was two-term Republican Governor Scott Walker who overreached in his pursuit of a third term, and seemed to recognize that early in the cycle.  Nobody from the top tier of candidates sought to challenge him on the Democratic side, but Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers ultimately won the right to take Walker on and ended up prevailing, albeit by more of a nailbiter than many polls indicated.  The race was tick tight into the wee hours of the morning before a final glut of Milwaukee County numbers rolled in that pushed Evers to victory, ultimately by a little over 1 point.  Democrats swept the downballot statewide offices as well, but ultimately there was still some cause for concern about Wisconsin heading into 2020.  Most of the northern half of the state continued to trend decisively Republican, resulting in formerly blue counties staying in Walker's hands and in some cases flipping even against Baldwin after she won them in 2012.  The centralization of Democratic vote in Wisconsin helped assure that the Republicans held the state legislature and that the 5-3 GOP Congressional map also held firm.  Democrat Randy Bryce came up more than 12 points short of picking up Paul Ryan's WI-01 south of Milwaukee, while other reach districts like WI-06 in the southern Fox Valley and WI-07 covering most of northern Wisconsin also proved wave resistant by double-digit margins.  All and all, Democrats had a good but not great night, and it's not as hard based on these midterm numbers to envision a path for Trump to win Wisconsin again as it is in Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Wyoming--Business as usual in the Equality State with two dominant Republican victories.  There was a faint whisper of hope that Senate candidate Gary Trauner, the last Democrat to come close to winning federal office in Wyoming more than a decade ago, could put up a serious fight against Republican incumbent John Barrasso, but Barrasso embarrassed Trauner by 37 points.  The open seat for the Governor's race was even more lopsided with Republican Mark Gordon toppling Democrat Mary Throne by 40 points.  It's sometimes hard to remember that Liz Cheney, former daughter of the Vice President, holds the state's at-large House seat, but she was handily re-elected as well.  There is actually substantially more coal harvested in Wyoming than West Virginia, and the politics of coal help explain why Wyoming has consolidated into the nation's most Republican state in the last generation.


Aside from the specific reasons I'm not as thrilled as I'd hoped to be about this month's overall results, related to the future of the judiciary and district lines, it's depressing to see the magnitude of demographic polarization in America, with Democrats and Republicans swapping out coalitions of farmers and union workers for Dallas debutantes and Wall Street hedge fund managers.  There is no way this pattern can continue without fundamentally changing what the parties stand for, and there would be nothing more awful than our politics being defined by a European-style clash between cosmopolitan finance capitalism and the ethno-nationalist backlash, yet that seemed to be exactly where we're headed with Trump having accelerated the transition.  I'm 90% sold on the idea that whether he wins or loses in 2020, Donald Trump will go down in history as one of the three most realigning figures of American politics in the last century, following in the footsteps of Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, in that he has likely shaped the fault lines for the cultural and political battleground for two generations to come in an incoherent and poisonous direction.

Given the nation's blisteringly rapid demographic transformation, it was probably inevitable that our politics would turn in the direction of incessant backlash and cultural grievance overwhelming all other concerns, but Trump got us there much faster than I expected we would with a higher degree of sustained nastiness coloring the divisions.  But the backlash isn't occurring exclusively on racial, ethnic, or class lines.  The gender gap is more eye-poppingly massive than it's ever been before, reaching a full 23 points.  Even some landslide losers in Senate races nationally, like Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania and Corey Stewart of Virginia, were able to win among male voters according to exit polls.  It's just hard to see how holding the majority in the House of Representatives, which was the only real genuine win the Democrats can claim from this election night, can make even a dent in patching together all of these fierce and growing divisions.  So like just about every other winning election Democrats have pulled off in my lifetime, with the exception of 2012, this year's win is a qualified victory.