1. Presidential candidates start to make their moves.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul was among the night's winners, and here's what two weeks of being on the trail with him showed: a candidate deliberately forming relationships with establishment figures, in marked contrast with his possible (probable) future rival Ted Cruz. There's nose-holding going on on both sides, sure, but he and Sen. Mitch McConnell appear to have reached a real understanding with each other that doesn't seem forced or awkward, and Paul has made it clear that he'll support McConnell for Republican leader.
In return, Paul likely expects help from McConnell in his presidential run, though he wouldn't discuss the matter in an interview with BuzzFeed News on Tuesday. The establishment credentials he's building now may help Paul with his campaign — and by the way, the fact that he will run for president is almost certain. Just look at how much he's going after Hillary Clinton. Watch for more of that as he gears up to decide on 2016 sometime in the spring of next year.
Another big winner: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Though he's been scandal-ridden in recent months, tonight's victories — in the 3 M's (Maine, Maryland, and Michigan) and especially in Florida — can be traced in part to his role leading the Republican Governors Association, for which he helped raise an enormous war chest. That's capital he can use to go to fundraisers to tout his effectiveness at campaigning.
—Rosie Gray and Darren Sands, BuzzFeed News reporters
2. A hawkish new Senate.
This Republican Senate will be a huge problem for Obama as he attempts to achieve some foreign policy goals in the last two years of his presidency. Most immediately and maybe most importantly, Republicans will try to nix any Iran deal that they deem unsatisfactory — and on this, they have the support of plenty of Democrats. The deadline for the nuclear talks is Nov. 24. The new Senate will have the will and the manpower to push through new sanctions legislation if it chooses, and the fight over Iran policy could prove to be one of the defining battles of the waning Obama presidency.
It's unclear where exactly the new Republican conference will be when it comes to foreign policy, but Tom Cotton and Joni Ernst, the new senators from Arkansas and Iowa, have seemed to exhibit a fairly hawkish foreign policy instinct. Foreign policy isn't the top issue voters care about, but their election could represent a cooling of enthusiasm for the anti-interventionist policies of libertarian Republicans that have garnered much attention in the past few years.
—Rosie Gray, BuzzFeed News reporter
3. White House hopes of bipartisanship.
The sweeping Republican victory means President Obama — who came to office in 2008 on the elusive promise of unity — has a last chance to find bipartisan ways of working. Or at least to pay lip service to such an ideal.
Obama placed a round of calls Tuesday to Republican victors, and the White House says he will hold a bipartisan meeting Friday. His staff told BuzzFeed News that he can connect with the new GOP leadership on issues such as corporate tax reform meant to funnel new funds into infrastructure projects, pre-kindergarten education funding, and funding for cybersecurity and fighting Ebola.
The hurdle in working with the new class of Republicans: Obama's own policies were, as he said, on the ballot, and they ran against them.
—Darren Sands and Evan McMorris-Santoro, BuzzFeed News reporters
4. A victory that means surprisingly little.
The flip of the Senate will be remembered for one thing: It will be the first time in history that a major party took control of both chambers of Congress and absolutely nothing changed.
Despite Democrats' teeth-gnashing over judicial nominees, the reality is that Republican control will mean exactly the same thing for Obama's choices as it has for every other two-term president in the home stretch: Noncontroversial picks will get slow-walked, but passed, in the first year; and then the whole process will grind to a halt in the tumult of election-year politics.
Sure, there may some more hearings aimed at attacking the administration, but the reality is Senate Republicans are only marginally closer to the very conservative House Republicans than Senate Democrats have been. And with Obama still sitting in the Oval Office and Democratic leader Harry Reid back in the role of procedural monkey wrencher, nothing of consequence will make its way to the president's desk.
—John Stanton, BuzzFeed News Washington, D.C., bureau chief
5. Weed is winning.
Washington, D.C., voters Tuesday allowed residents to possess and grow small amounts of marijuana, and voters in Oregon moved overwhelmingly to legalize recreational marijuana. A measure to legalize medical marijuana got 57% of the vote in Florida — not enough to pass, but a clear sign of momentum. Guam voters also approved medical marijuana Tuesday.
And according to ABC's early exit polls, 49% of Americans want to legalize marijuana in their states, while 46% oppose it.
The bottom line: The direction of voter sentiment — toward weed — is clear.
6. Pressure to act soon on immigration.
President Obama delayed promised relief for undocumented immigrants until after the election, for fear that the move would hurt crucial senators. And the move seems to have paid off, politically: Pollster Latino Decisions reports that Latino voters came out for Democrats by roughly the same margins as 2012.
Now Latino and immigrant rights groups — including DREAMers — plan to raise the pressure on Obama and demand that he keep his promise to act before the year is over. Advocates want Obama to go big, including millions of people and following the outlines of bipartisan Senate legislation. But advocates also fear that the administration may only protect 1–3 million people.
The big question: How broad a coalition assembles to press for White House action.
—Adrian Carrasquillo, BuzzFeed News reporter, Latino coverage editor
7. Ted Cruz will be a key player in the Capitol.
Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner — whose houses have not always played well together — are committed to being on the same page for the next two years to set their party up for success in 2016. That doesn't mean they won't be conservatives, but it does mean that they'll want to appeal to moderates, to appear to work with President Obama, and to generally seem reasonable.
And McConnell, who won big in his own race and around the country Tuesday, will come in feeling he has a mandate. But then, so will his party's conservative wing — not exactly given to compromise.
And so the question for hopes of Republican cooperation: Will conservative leader Ted Cruz let it happen?
—Kate Nocera, BuzzFeed News reporter
8. Obama's last shot at shaping the federal judiciary.
The president, who came in wanting to reshape the federal judiciary, has succeeded in making two Supreme Court appointments, tilting the ideological balance of a majority of the federal appeals courts, and diversifying the federal bench.
He loses much of his room to maneuver in 60 days.
In the next two months, the final batch of Obama appointees will be approved in the lame-duck Senate — and even then, only in the wake of a rule change limiting the use of filibuster to block appointments. Once the Republicans take over, and particularly in light of the judges pushed through under the filibuster rule change, it's hard to imagine Obama getting many more judges through — at least when it comes to the crucial appeals courts and Supreme Court.
—Chris Geidner, BuzzFeed News legal editor
9. Republicans will have to make a choice about LGBT rights.
The coming Congress will be the true test of whether the Republican Party wants to move on from the LGBT culture wars after the decisive legal victories of the marriage equality movement.
Pro-LGBT legislation is unlikely to proceed, but the real questions will be whether party leaders will allow anti-LGBT amendments or legislation to reach the floor and whether LGBT Republicans will have a voice at the table. As marriage cases continue to proceed through the courts, another issue will be whether the Republican Party will re-engage in the issue — attempt to turn the tide — or if it will instead allow the tide to continue unimpeded, if not endorsed.
—Chris Geidner, BuzzFeed News legal editor
Ben Smith is the editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed and is based in New York.
Contact Ben Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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