Last Thursday Salon published a story suggesting that huge African-American turnout would prove decisive in down-ballot races on Tuesday. Alex Koppelman, with an able assist from Gabriel Winant, handicapped 14 different House contests in which black votes might knock off a Republican incumbent or give the Democrats an open seat previously held by a Republican.
Congressional Democrats underperformed expectations on Tuesday. Only one lowballing participant in our intraoffice betting pool came close to guessing five Senate and 20 House pickups. But of those House seats the Democrats do seem to have picked up, half were on Alex's list. Ohio's 1st District, Virginia's 2nd and 11th districts, Alabama's 2nd, North Carolina's 8th, Connecticut's 4th (formerly the last Republican seat in New England), Florida's 8th and Michigan's 9th. The races in Maryland's 1st District and Virginia's 5th are currently too close to call, but if they go to the Democrats that would mean Alex called 10 out of 13 races right. (Louisiana's 4th District, race No. 14, is a special case -- Tuesday actually represented a primary runoff, and the district's next representative will be chosen in a special election next month.)
The real point here is to underscore how much Democrats owe to black voters, for years the party's most loyal constituency. Those victories represent about half of the Democrats' net House gains in 2008. And would Obama have picked up the electoral votes of Indiana, Virginia and perhaps North Carolina without increased African-American turnout -- and without winning that super-size vote by 90 percentage points? In fact, the challenge for Democrats two years from now will be keeping some of these seats, Virginia's 2nd and Alabama's 2nd districts in particular, during an off-year election by giving black voters a good reason to come out in force yet again.