Going into Election Day, gay rights supporters were 0-35 when it came to state referenda restricting same-sex marriage rights. In one night, the country appeared to meet its tipping point on an issue that has trended toward acceptance. In Maine, Maryland, and Washington, citizens voted to allow gay marriage and in one other, Minnesota, they voted against a ban on it. Maine was the first state to be called and also carries the distinction of the question being brought forward through a citizen initiative, rather than at the behest of state lawmakers. Just three years ago, the Pine Tree State voted down a similar measure.
Gay rights supporters also won another victory on Tuesday with the election of Tammy Baldwin as the first openly gay member of the Senate. Baldwin defeated Republican rival Tommy Thompson in a Wisconsin race where her sexuality was widely known, but not made a consequential part of the campaigning.
Republican politicos have known for quite some time that the country's demographics are moving toward increased diversity. President George W. Bush even forged in-roads with Hispanic voters during his pair of presidential campaigns, finding common ground on issues of faith and other conservative values. But the current GOP has alienated Hispanic voters so much that standard-bearer Mitt Romney lost them by breath-taking margins in many key states, such as Colorado.
Each month, 50,000 Latino voters turn voting age and exit polls show that nearly 10 percent of voters Tuesday were Hispanic. That's a new record. So even though Hispanics (and African Americans) vote in lower percentages than whites, their influence in American elections is growing.
State Polls/Nate Silver
While many daily tracking polls showed a slight edge for Romney over President Barack Obama near the end of the campaign, state polls in key battleground states consistently showed Obama with a narrow lead. Many on the right pooh-poohed the voter make-up of the polling samples, arguing Democrats were being over-sampled to feed into a liberal media agenda. Nate Silver, a prognosticator who runs a New York Times blog after successfully predicting Obama's victory four years ago, was singled out by many conservatives.
But in the end, Silver and the state polls were right and national tracking polls like Gallup and Rasmussen fell short.
Women were winners this cycle for several reasons: It is expected that there will be 18 women serving in the Senate, an all-time high. This is a sign of strong recruitment on behalf of the national parties, but also that women are succeeding in all levels of the political world. As more and more women get involved as candidates in state and local government, it builds a farm team to populate higher offices.
Women voters were also a key element in this election. They were heavily targeted by both Obama and Romney, identified as crucial swing voters based on both economic and social issues. (Binders full of women, anyone?) Such influence helps change the campaign messages and the issues that politicians choose to address.
Bill and Hillary
When things were looking down for the Obama campaign, they ran straight into the welcoming arms of former President Bill Clinton. Clinton, hailed for presiding over a booming economy and for his ability to explain complicated issues to voters, was given a keynote speech during the Democratic National Convention. He knocked it out of the park. The Big Dog also threw himself into the campaign wholeheartedly on behalf of Obama, barnstorming battleground states as if it was his own presidency on the line.
Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, was not allowed to campaign on behalf of Obama due to a federal law that forbids cabinet members from doing so. But she's also a winner, having built bipartisan street cred during her tenure as Secretary of State as well as becoming one of the most popular politicians around. She's said she wants to retire from public life, but don't be surprised if the political power couple re-emerges.
The Romney "Ground Game"
Mitt Romney's campaign crowed about how much better its ground game was than that of 2008 GOP presidential nominee John McCain. It had made exponentially more voter contacts—door knocks, phone calls—than McCain, had more offices, and was far more tech-savvy. Well, that all may have been true but it was still no match for the massive offensive launched by Obama's team.
Romney also banked on being able to say what he thought was most advantageous at any given moment, consistency on any given issue be damned. During the primary, he lurched right on issues of immigration and cutting spending. He stayed to the right throughout much of the general campaign until he blindsided Obama during the first debate by moderating nearly all of his positions. But in the end, many swing voters decided they were better off with the devil they knew than the devil they didn't.
GOP Men Talking About Rape and Abortion
Top Republicans working for GOP Senate candidates were full of ire Tuesday night over high-profile remarks made by aspiring pols that sunk GOP chances for winning control of the upper chamber. Whether it was Missouri's Todd Akin (incorrectly) discussing biology or the definition of what makes for 'legitimate' rape or Indiana's Richard Mourdock seemingly insinuating rape was part of God's will, voters were not impressed.
Even Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan was pulled down by the tide, given his sponsorship of anti-abortion legislation that might have fallen under the radar if not for the renewed interest in culture wars prompted by the sensational remarks of Akin and Mourdock.
The GOP Base
Republican primary voters once again supported several conservative politicians over more moderate counterparts who went on to lose in the general election. One example was Linda McMahon in the Connecticut Senate race, who beat moderate Chris Shays in the primary. She lost handily to Democrat Chris Murphy, though early polling showed Shays would have made the contest more competitive.
It's not yet clear whether or not the continued purging of moderates, a phenomenon in both parties but more so among the GOP, will continue unabated. But it is apparent that by electing candidates who play to the base, the Republican Party is severely limiting its chances of ever regaining control of the Senate.
Though Republicans retained control of the House of Representatives, several high-profile Tea Partiers appear to have lost their seats. Most notable is Florida's Allen West, who appeared to be losing a very, very close contest. West is known for being out-spoken and outrageous, something that attracted massive amounts of outside money from conservatives but also made him a top Democratic target.
Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, another top Tea Party figure, was given the fight of her life in order to retain her congressional seat. She managed to eke out a victory, but the prolific fundraiser was pushed to her limit.
Several other Tea Party champions were defeated, in Illinois, Utah, and elsewhere.
The conservative political guru who lead President George W. Bush's 2004 re-election and masterminded political victories from the White House predicted a blow-out Romney victory and then put on quite a show election night on Fox News.
After the network called Ohio for Obama and effectively ended Romney's chances of winning the White House, Rove denied the call. He argued that the state should not be called for Obama and rushed through of litany of county turnout numbers and other data points to support his position. Fox newscasters were so flabbergasted, they sent an anchor down to their 'decision desk' to discuss the call. Their number crunchers stuck to their position and in the end were proven right.
Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.