The polls were close in the 2008 election until the financial collapse. The election of Barack Obama was not a vindication of everything Democrats or progressives believe in. Many treated it as such. Similarly, the expected Republican wins tonight should not be treated as an affirmation of American conservatism, although I'm sure David Blaska has already written a post making exactly that claim.
In fact, the Republican Party continues to be less popular than their opponents. Gallup, which has shown the GOP crushing the Democrats in the generic ballot, also shows the Party of Lincoln with an over 50% unfavorable rating.
Protest votes matter, and they increase when the economy is in the tank. But -- as the GOP leadership's reluctance to engage in controversial issues like Social Security suggests -- the party on the right does not have a mandate to offer the agenda that conservatives want enacted.
What will be interesting to see is how they plan to restrain "out of control" spending. Withdrawal from Afghanistan? Elimination of Medicare?
If the GOP takes the House, it will be a rich opportunity for Obama to invoke their responsibility for the "purse strings" and ask them to submit a budget. Force them to make the cuts they have promised. Let's see if they have the guts.
Now --for the Democrats. It will be interesting to hear what the state Dems say on the state level. What will Mike Tate say if they get crushed? How did Russ Feingold's seat get away from them? Was their ground game as good as they said it would be? I heard from a disgruntled Democrat weeks ago that the coordinated campaign in Madison was not out delegating ward captains for GOTV as it has in previous years.