November 8, 2018

Deepening polarization. New faces. A House Democratic takeover. A strengthened GOP Senate.

Journalists struggled with a multilayered storyline Tuesday night as results came in. (Here's Poynter's front-page round-up.)

In some suburban places, Democrats seized seats from moderate Republicans by campaigning on the need for checks and balances from President Trump. A record number of women were elected to Congress, whose House flipped Democratic. GOP governors in Maryland and Massachusetts won re-election partly by showing their independence from Trump — and their distaste for him.

In other places, fealty to Trump was critical to victory.

While former President Bush called Tuesday night a "thumpin'" and former President Obama saw a "shellacking," Trump tried to portray the GOP House loss and retention of the Senate as a win.

Some journalists focused on the numerous House subpoenas of Trump's administration that may follow the Democratic takeover. Sites like Mother Jones called it a triumph for Democrats, given job growth and economic performance under Trump. Conservative sites hailed maintaining the GOP hold on the Senate. 

Here's a snapshot of a split decision: Kansas rejected a Trump-loving, election-suppressing GOP secretary of state for governor, while a similar politician took the lead in Georgia. 

Iowans rejected a GOP incumbent under an ethics investigation for a 29-year-old Democratic challenger. But voters backed a GOP incumbent who was indicted for insider trading, another indicted for embezzling campaign funds, a third who was convicted of assault in body-slamming a reporter and a fourth who had been cut loose by Republicans for white supremacist comments.

Minnesota and Michigan voters elected Congress’s first two Muslim women; Colorado chose the nation’s first openly gay governor; three women, two from New Mexico and one from Kansas, will be the first Native American women representatives in Congress.

But in a year with record numbers of women seeking office, several high-profile women lost, including incumbent senators Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat called it "two years of chaos and hysteria ending in a return to stalemate." He added: "We have two parties that in different ways seem content with their insufficient coalitions, and a country that needs a governing majority."

Moving beyond Congress, states decided several key issues that will provide continuing fodder for journalists. Floridians approved an amendment that would restore the vote to up to 1.4 million citizens who had served their time for felonies. Massachusetts became the first state to uphold transgender rights at the ballot box. Michigan voters chose to make their state the 10th in America to legalize recreational weed.

One unqualified winner: Obamacare. Kansas and Maine elected governors who ran on expanding Medicaid coverage, and Nebraska and Idaho voted to expand the coverage.

Surrounding the vote

— Hours before polls opened Tuesday, Facebook acknowledged foreign election meddling was happening on the social network.

— Heal the divide? Nope. Susan Glasser on the dark certainty of the midterm vote.

— Fox News condemned the campaign rally appearance of Sean Hannity with President Trump and said — without elaboration — that the issue has been addressed.

— Jemele Hill writes in The Atlantic that a tweet, in which she announced her support for defeated Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, may be why her name was taken off the voter rolls in the Sunshine State.

— An 83-year-old man hit a deer, totaled his car, abandoned the vehicle and then walked a mile — to vote.

Quick hits

THE ATLANTIC BULKS UP: The latest hire comes from the New Yorker: George Packer, who has written incisively about national politics and the U.S. military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. (I'll have my interview with the editor of, Adrienne LaFrance, later this week). 

HELLO, GUARDIAN VOICE LAB: With funding from Google, The Guardian is launching a four-member team experimenting with storytelling and delivering journalism through smart speakers and interactive audio.

A PERSONAL NOTE: Your morning columnist started "sitting in" on Poynter's weekday Mediawire as a short-term venture early this year, while the institute was between media writers. I hadn’t expected it to last two weeks, much less 10 months, but I came to enjoy the beat deeply. I’ll be staffing this for the next few weeks and then remaining as a contributing writer, doing occasional longer features for Poynter, as well as doing my side project on uplifting stories. Thanks very much for reading, and thanks to editors Anne Glover and Barbara Allen for laboring through my copy.


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Have a good Wednesday. See you Thursday.

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