A good motto for Election Day is usually “expect the unexpected.”
That certainly held true on Tuesday night. Ultimately, the midterms turned out to be an even better than expected night for Republicans. They locked up many races relatively early and by large margins, despite polling in recent weeks that indicated most competitive races were close.
But that bigger than expected GOP wave gave way to a lot of surprising moments. Here are The Hill’s top 10:
•Some of the losses by Democrats weren’t surprising, but the margins were. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHouse passes standalone bill to provide B for Israel's Iron Dome Pelosi vows to avert government shutdown McConnell calls Trump a 'fading brand' in Woodward-Costa book MORE (R-Ky.) won by 15 points over Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. Rep. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonHillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Tech groups take aim at Texas Republican lawmakers raise security, privacy concerns over Huawei cloud services Debt ceiling fight pits corporate America against Republicans MORE (R-Ark.) toppled Sen. Mark PryorMark Lunsford PryorBottom line Everybody wants Joe Manchin Cotton glides to reelection in Arkansas MORE (D-Ark.) by 17 points. And state Sen. Joni Ernst (R) defeated Rep. Bruce BraleyBruce Lowell BraleyThe Memo: Trump attacks on Harris risk backfiring 2020 caucuses pose biggest challenge yet for Iowa's top pollster OPINION | Tax reform, not Trump-McConnell feuds, will make 2018 a win for GOP MORE (D-Iowa) by 8 points and effectively sealed the deal for Senate Republicans’ majority. Recent polling showed all of those candidates ahead, but by single digits.
•Senate Republicans won a clear majority before midnight on election night. Signs initially suggested that Americans wouldn’t know who won the Senate on Tuesday. The open Senate race in Georgia once appeared likely to go to a runoff on Jan. 6. And if Republicans couldn’t pick up seats elsewhere, a Dec. 6 runoff in Louisiana could have resulted in a cliffhanger. Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsBob Dole, Pat Roberts endorse Kansas AG Derek Schmidt for governor Ex-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain MORE (R-Kan.) also appeared in danger of losing his seat to Independent Greg Orman. But Roberts and Georgia GOP Senate candidate David Perdue won decisively well before midnight on Tuesday. In late-closing Alaska, Republican Dan Sullivan is ahead of Sen. Mark BegichMark Peter BegichAlaska Senate race sees cash surge in final stretch Alaska group backing independent candidate appears linked to Democrats Sullivan wins Alaska Senate GOP primary MORE (D), though the race is too close to call.
•Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerPanic begins to creep into Democratic talks on Biden agenda Democrats surprised, caught off guard by 'framework' deal Schumer announces Senate-House deal on tax 'framework' for .5T package MORE (D-Va.) is barely hanging on. Polling showed Warner ahead of GOP candidate Ed Gillespie by double digits earlier this cycle and still by an average of more than 5 points in recent weeks. Democrats generally weren’t as worried about Warner as they were about incumbents in North Carolina and New Hampshire. Now, Warner currently leads Gillespie by just less than a percentage point with all precincts counted. The race appears headed to a recount, and it could take days, if not weeks, for a final call.
•Rep. John BarrowJohn Jenkins BarrowOn The Trail: The political losers of 2020 Republican wins Georgia secretary of state runoff to replace Kemp The most important runoff election is one you probably never heard of MORE (D-Ga.) lost. Barrow, the last white House Democrat from the Deep South, was the perpetual survivor. Despite being a perennial GOP target in a conservative district, Barrow managed to win reelection by maintaining a centrist voting record and a folksy appeal. His luck ran out Tuesday as the Democrat lost by 9 points to GOP businessman Rick Allen, one of the most formidable opponents he’d faced in the redrawn district.
•Sen. Kay HaganKay Ruthven HaganInfighting grips Nevada Democrats ahead of midterms Democrats, GOP face crowded primaries as party leaders lose control Biden's gun control push poses danger for midterms MORE (D-N.C.) lost. Both sides always knew this race would be close, but the networks called the race for North Carolina state Speaker Thom Tillis (R) just a few hours after the polls closed. At a minimum, many Democrats predicted Hagan and Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenKoch-backed group launches 7-figure ad blitz opposing .5T bill Senate lawmakers let frustration show with Blinken We have a plan that prioritizes Afghanistan's women — we're just not using it MORE (D-N.H.) would win reelection and stave off Senate GOP gains. Only one of those ended up being true.
•Rep. Dan Maffei (D-N.Y.) lost, and by a huge margin. Maffei was a top GOP target throughout the 2014 election cycle, and political handicappers eventually rated the race as a toss-up. Still, no one expected Maffei would lose to Republican John Katko by 19 points. After all, former Republican Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle defeated Maffei by less than a point in 2010 after weeks of counting votes. Maffei won the seat back in 2012, but it’s hard at this point to see him running for the seat again after losing so decisively.
•Early calls in Illinois predicted a good night for the GOP. Competitive Illinois races went decisively for Republicans relatively early in the night. Former Rep. Bob Dold (R) unseated Rep. Brad Schneider (D) in their rematch, Rep. Rodney Davis (R) fended off a challenge from Democrat Ann Callis by 17 points, and state Rep. Mike Bost (R) toppled freshman Rep. Bill Enyart (D) handily by 11 points. Republican Bruce Rauner also won the governor’s race against Gov. Pat Quinn (D), which put the cherry on top for the GOP in President Obama’s home state.
•Freshman Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.) lost. Horsford’s race wasn’t on either party’s radar until the final weeks of the campaign. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars in a late attempt to save Horsford in a district that Obama won handily in 2012, after American Crossroads went on a spending blitz there. But it was too late, and Nevada state assemblyman Cresent Hardy pulled the upset Tuesday night.
•Incumbent House Democrats not expected to be in play are too close to call. Three House Democrats ended up having nail-biter election nights. As of Wednesday afternoon, The Associated Press had still not called the reelection races of Reps. John Delaney (D-Md.), Jim Costa (D-Calif.) and Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.). Delaney and Slaughter currently hold narrow leads, but Costa is trailing Republican Johnny Tacherra. Republicans already expanded their majority to their largest since the 1940s, but these unexpected seats would give the GOP even more opportunities.
•Democrats lost the Maryland gubernatorial race. Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D) was one of the few candidates this cycle who had Obama campaign on his behalf in the traditionally Democratic stronghold. Republicans attacked Brown for his ties to Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), particularly for the tax increases enacted under the current governor. In the end, GOP businessman Larry Hogan pulled out an upset by a 9-point margin, showing just how high the GOP tidal wave had crested.