So it was a blue wave after all.
A week ago, many pundits (myself included) and partisan Democrats looked at the midterm election returns as a good, but not necessarily great night for the party. A week later, as the returns have slowly trickled in, the results look resoundingly like a significant Democratic win — and one that bodes well for the party’s short-term future.
Democrats look poised to win 39 House seats, a larger number than they won in the 2006 wave election. According to a New York Times analysis, 317 congressional districts shifted to the left, for an average 10-percentage point move.
Democrats also flipped seven governorships, pending the final result in Georgia. In the Senate, Democrats lost three seats, flipped two, and appear likely to lose another in Florida. But losing just two seats feels like a win in a year in which Republicans had one of the most favorable Senate maps in recent history.
A deeper dive into the numbers, however, shows the breadth of the Democrats’ impressive victory. Let’s begin in the Northeast. The outcome in Maine’s Second Congressional District is still pending, but it appears likely that the Democratic candidate, Jared Golden, will prevail. If he does, Democrats will control all 21 House seats in New England.
Democrats also picked up four seats in New Jersey (Republicans are down to one congressman in the Garden State), three in Virginia, and a handful in Pennsylvania. From the mid-Atlantic to the Northeast and up to New England, Democrats enjoy near total domination on the federal level (state houses are a bit less glorious for Democrats, as four Republicans governors in New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Maryland were reelected).
Things look quite similar on the West Coast. In California, Democrats probably picked up six House seats, including several in the once formidably conservative Orange County, which after January may not be represented by a single House Republican. The party now has a whopping 45-8 advantage among House members from California, and if you combine the states of Washington, Oregon, and Nevada, that number bloats to 60-12 and all 8 Senate seats and governorships. In Colorado, Democrats won the governor’s mansion and flipped the state Senate to take complete control of the state’s government — turning this once purple state into a solidly blue one.
In the Upper Midwest, where presidential elections are all too often decided, Democrats acquitted themselves quite well on Tuesday, winning Senate and governor’s races in Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan and picking up several House seats.
But the real story for Democrats is about the places where they are still the minority party. In Arizona, Kyrsten Sinema won an open Senate seat Arizona, the first Democrat to win a senate race in that state since 1988. In Texas, Beto O’Rourke lost to Ted Cruz, but still won 48 percent of the vote. In Georgia, a state Hillary Clinton lost by only 5 points in 2016, gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams got 48 percent of the vote and Democrats flipped one House seat, with the potential to win another that is still not called.
How they did it is what is most notable — by breaking Republican dominance of the nation’s suburbs. Abrams won the Atlanta suburbs of Gwinnett and Cobb County. In the former she out-performed Clinton by eight points — the latter by 14 points.
In Texas, O’Rourke made impressive inroads into once solid red suburbs, like Tarrant County, which includes Fort Worth and Houston’s Harris County, where Democratic judicial candidates swept local elections. Democrats also flipped two House seats in the suburbs of Dallas and Houston.
This pattern played out around the country — in both blue and red states. Democratic candidates won surprise victories in suburban Charleston and Oklahoma City. They picked up seats in the bedroom communities around Miami, Detroit, Chicago, Kansas City, Washington, and Los Angeles. In Minnesota, Democrats lost two seats in rural districts, while flipping two others in suburban and exurban districts around Minneapolis/St.Paul. If there’s any glimmer of hope for Republicans out of Tuesday’s results it’s that they have further solidified their control in rural communities and ruby red states. In case there was any question, Missouri, Indiana, and, to a lesser extent, Ohio can increasingly be considered solid red states. For all the Democratic gains, most of the Deep South, the Plains, and West remains solidly Republican.
Then there is Florida, Tuesday’s anomaly. Though Democrats will likely narrowly lose both the governor and senate races — and their candidates did better than Clinton in 2016 — it seems clear that the Sunshine State remains Republican-leaning. Yet even in Florida, we see evidence of the national trends — Democrats over-performing in suburban communities while being swamped by Republican dominance in the state’s rural counties.
Indeed, if there’s one overriding outcome from Tuesday it’s that the greatest divide in American politics is suburban/rural and to a lesser extent suburb/exurb. Republicans once dominated the nation’s suburbs. Today, particularly outside the South, it is Democrats who have the edge.
Driving that shift are women, specifically college-educated women, who supported Democrats by a 19-point margin last week.
Make no mistake: The man in the White House, who has staked his political career on winning over non-college-educated white voters and systematically alienating everyone else, is driving that cleavage. The results on Tuesday confirm what we’ve seen in American politics for the past two years — a growing shift to the Democrats among women and suburban dwellers, and new-found enthusiasm among solidly left-leaning voters. If these trends continue, Democrats are poised to have an even better night two years from now.Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.