As a political junkie, I of course have thoughts on the election, so here are some of them.
Personality mattered, but more in the negative sense than the positive sense. Voters in right-leaning districts were happy to choose generic conservative Republicans, in some cases tossing out long-tenured centrist Democrats, in countless House races, in a few Senate races in purple/light blue states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and even Illinois, in the governor's races. But the real Tea Party crazies running for the Senate got swept in purple and blue states - Sharron Angle in Nevada, Christine O'Donnell in Delaware, Ken Buck in Colorado, and as long as 90% of the people who tried to vote for Lisa Murkowski could approximate the spelling of her name, Joe Miller in Alaska, they all went down. Candidates who stayed on message preaching fiscal conservatism outperformed culture warriors. Rand Paul is the biggest real Tea Party winner, while some deep red states have new deep red senators like Utah's Mike Lee. Thanks, Sarah, for helping us keep the Senate blue.
The biggest star born tonight was probably Marco Rubio, the most polished hybrid old GOP/ Tea Party winner. There's a chance he could be the GOP vice presidential nominee in 2012 (help carry Florida and Hispanics), also that he could lead the ticket in 2016 or 2020. The new governor of Florida was one of the biggest disaster of the election (other than the cumulative effect, or the swing of the House). He's a crook. Indeed, the GOP cleaned up in the three most important swing states in the country: Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida.
A huge class of new freshmen in joining the Senate. But it could have been bigger. The Senate was the brighter side of the night for the Democrats, and not just because it didn't change hands. Only two Democratic incumbents lost, when several more (Harry Reid, Barbara Boxer, Patty Murray) had been significantly threatened. The other four pick-ups were in open seats. Losing Illinois and Pennsylvania hurts, but Alexi Giannoulias was a weak candidate and Mark Kirk isn't an extremist. The Illinois governor's race is a nailbiter, but Pat Quinn is still winning it for the Democrats. Pennsylvania was for me the most disappointing Senate result. One wonders if Arlen Specter would have been able to keep his seat if he could get a party to nominate him, but I actually doubt it, and tip my hat to Joe Sestak's tough campaign. I also doubt Pat Toomey will be reelected in 2016, but that is a long six years away.
The Senate of the 111th Congress began losing members before it even began, with Barack Obama and Joe Biden moving to the White House. Hillary Clinton and Ken Salazar joined them in the administration with Cabinet jobs. Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd, the Senate's longest serving members, died in 2009 and 2010. One Republican, Mel Martinez, joined the early departed, to become a lobbyist. Out of the seven replacements, five are now gone. The two who tried for election in their own right, Kirsten Gillibrand and Michael Bennet, both managed to win, Bennet in a real cliffhanger. So Gillibrand and Bennet and Republican Scott Brown, who snatched the 60th Democratic seat in January, lead the 16 new Senators who will be sworn in between now and early January.
16 is a big number but 12 of them were running in open seats in the primaries, 14 in open seats in November after party-switcher Specter and not-ultraconservative-enough Bob Bennett were knocked off by challengers. A few more incumbents would have gone down if they'd run. But it was first the removal of Democratic stars to the executive branch and the great beyond and second retirement that have vastly changed the Senate, more than the political wave.
So the cumulative effect is a change of 19 from one general election to the other, irrespective of dates of resignations, deaths, swearing ins etc. (Hillary Clinton and Al Franken never served together for example, but they were both elected members of the 111th Congress).
Gone from elected Senate (19): Obama (D-IL), Biden (D-DE), Clinton (D-NY), Salazar (D-CO), Kennedy (D-MA), Martinez (R-FL), Byrd (D-WV), Bayh (D-IN), Bond (R-MO), Brownback (R-KS), Bunning (R-KY), Dodd (D-CT), Dorgan (D-ND), Gregg (D-NH), Voinovich (R-OH), Bennett (R-UT), Specter (R/D-PA), Feingold (D-WI), Lincoln (D-AR)
Interim replacements already gone (5): Burris (D-IL), Kaufman (D-DE), Kirk (D-MA), LeMieux (R-FL), Goodwin (D-WV)
New to elected Senate (19): Gillibrand (D-NY), Bennet (D-CO), Brown (R-MA), Ayotte (R-NH), Boozman (R-AR), Blumenthal (D-CT), Blunt (R-MO), Coats (R-IN), Coons (D-DE), Hoeven (R-ND), Johnson (R-WI), Kirk (R-IL), Lee (R-UT), Manchin (D-WV), Moran (R-KS), Paul (R-KY), Portman (R-OH), Rubio (R-FL), Toomey (R-PA)