The 2010 US General Election was, as most elections are, momentous and difficult to describe and analyze. While I am hoping to sum up the results, I thought it would be easier to start with some individual races that I know of well.
The Oregon governor's office has been Democratic since 1986, and while there have been some very close attempts on it, the Republican Party has not managed run a viable candidate in a viable year. 2010 seemed like their chance to do both: it would be a wave election for the Republicans that might even overflow the high walls of Democratic Oregon, and the internal politics of the Republican Party might be able to select a candidate that appealed to both the party's base, and to suburban voters in the Portland area.
The candidates that were eventually selected were an odd match. The Democratic candidate, John Kitzhaber, had been the governor of Oregon for two terms, from 1995 to 2003. As in many states, the governor of Oregon can only serve two consecutive terms, but can run again for non-consecutive terms. Kitzhaber was the first person to actually do so, however. It was a somewhat odd decision for him to make, given that at the time of his exit from the job he seemed less than enthused about it. However, he had instant name recognition and the Democratic bench was somewhat sparse, so he won the primary.
On the Republican side, the choice was almost the exact opposite: someone with no political experience at all. The Republican candidate was Chris Dudley, journeyman basketball player who had played some years for the Portland Trailblazers. While this might seem like an unusual choice for someone running for governor, on the campaign trail at least it had its advantages: instant name recognition, without the downside of any past decisions to offend people. Chris Dudley also attended Yale University and seemed to be a pretty smart, competent, likable guy. He also had plenty of money and connections.
With this set-up, the campaign would seem to present some interesting possibilities. However, it didn't. The race wasn't about the personalities and experience of the candidates, as much as it was about the demographics of Oregon. Could Kitzhaber run up enough of a vote in Multnomah County (and to a lesser extent, in Lane County) to offset the fact that Dudley would win big in rural areas and would have a slight edge in the suburban areas of Portland? It was a question that was much in doubt through Tuesday night and well into Wednesday, as the rural and suburban areas of the state had their vote tabulated, showing a slight Dudley lead. However, through Wednesday, as Multnomah County's vote was finished, Kitzhaber finally pulled ahead and ended up finishing the election with a plurality, 49.0 to 48.09 percent. The demographic pattern stayed true to form, with the numbers correlating to past elections. The largest exception to that was that Dudley, as expected, overperformed in the suburban counties around Portland.
Like many races this year, this election can not be really described as a victory for either side. On the Republican side, even in a wave year, with a candidate with name recognition and high favorability ratings, and with plenty of money to spend, couldn't quite close the deal by clearly winning suburban voters. In other words, if Chris Dudley can't win in 2010, it is hard to imagine when a Republican could win a gubernatorial election. On the Democratic side, John Kitzhaber, a man with high name recognition who was quite popular as a governor, won only by a plurality, and by a margin of 12,000 votes. John Kitzhaber was a governor for 8 years, followed by 8 years of Ted Kulongoski, who was Kitzhaber's less-charismatic understudy. In some ways, Kitzhaber is a four-term incumbent, and after all this time, people are somewhat tepid in their support for him. So the election can not be said to have a "winner" in the sense that neither party has demonstrated a large base of support. As for what this portends for the future, the closest conclusion I can draw is that Oregon politics will continue to follow the same structure and pattern that they have for the past two decades.