It's hard to overstate House Democrats' bad night. By all measures, Republicans enjoyed an historic night, exceeding pre-election expectations across the country. There are fewer than ten races where the outcome is in some doubt, but Republicans appear headed for a 250-seat majority, give or take three seats, for a gain of between 13 and 19. A net gain of 13 would give them their largest majority since Herbert Hoover won the presidency in 1928.
As of 4am Wednesday morning, races that appeared too close to call were Democratic Reps. Ron Barber (AZ-02), Jim Costa (CA-16), Julia Brownley (CA-26), Scott Peters (CA-52), Louise Slaughter (NY-25), and GOP Rep. Lee Terry (NE-02).
Plain and simple, the story in House races was an epic turnout collapse and motivational deficit. Democrats' surprisingly large losses are attributable to "orphan states" where there was little enthusiasm for top-of-the-ticket Democrats. For example, in New York, the lack of a competitive statewide race caused Democratic turnout to plummet, and Reps. Tim Bishop (NY-01) and Dan Maffei (NY-24) suffered surprisingly wide defeats.
Even Rep. Louise Slaughter's normally safe Rochester seat (NY-25), which neither party had on their radar screen appears headed for a recount. In Maryland, where Republican Larry Hogan pulled off an upset in the gubernatorial race, Democratic Rep. John Delaney (MD-06) appears to have barely hung on. And in Iowa, the final insult to Democrats was the loss of failed Democratic Senate nominee Bruce Braley's 1st CD.
The overwhelming share of Democratic incumbents in the Toss Up column lost, including Reps. Joe Garcia (FL-26), John Barrow (GA-12), Brad Schneider (IL-10), Bill Enyart (IL-12), Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01), Tim Bishop (NY-01), Dan Maffei (NY-24) and Nick Rahall (WV-03). With Barrow's defeat, there will no longer be a single white Democrat holding a House seat in the Deep South. And with Rahall's defeat, Democrats no longer hold any seats in coal country.
Republican gains even reached into the Lean Democratic column, where the GOP captured Maine's open 2nd CD and defeated Reps. Steven Horsford (NV-04) and Pete Gallego (TX-23). Abysmal Hispanic turnout cost Democrats both TX-23 and NV-04, where raw votes appear to have fallen from 2010. And in California, the virtually non-existed Hispanic turnout nearly caught Democratic Reps. Jerry McNerney (CA-09) and Jim Costa (CA-21) by surprise.
Just about the only places Democrats survived were races where the DCCC and its allies were able to take advantage of very flawed GOP incumbents or candidates. Gaffe-prone GOP Reps. Steve Southerland (FL-02) and Lee Terry (NE-02) appear headed for narrow defeats, while the DCCC seems to have defined GOP candidates Andy Tobin (AZ-01) and Stewart Mills (MN-08) as sufficiently out of touch to allow Democrats to barely hang on.
But, in perhaps the most demoralizing loss of the night for Democrats, indicted Staten Island GOP Rep. Michael Grimm (NY-11) won reelection comfortably, 55 percent to 42 percent.
As bad as Election Night seemed, it really could have been worse, and the DCCC and House Majority PAC deserve plenty of credit for shifting their resources to defense early and saving those who could be saved.
For Democrats, this is a time for reflection, and the election result will only fuel speculation about a change in leadership. Just about the only good news for Democrats tonight is that Republicans didn't necessarily change a lot of minds; unmotivated Democratic voters simply didn't show up. That means plenty of freshman Republicans from Obama-carried districts will begin 2014 with a big target on their back in a full-turnout, presidential cycle.
On the Republican side, the big winner is NRCC Chair Rep. Greg Walden, who has attained his stated goal in his party's "Drive for 245," and whose detractors will have a much harder time arguing for a change in committee leadership. And, Speaker John Boehner's hand will be strengthened, since he can afford to lose more GOP votes when attempting to pass tough bills and gained plenty of friendly new faces from blue-leaning districts.