Most pundits are giving credit to the Obama campaign for a powerful voter turnout effort that carried the election. The New York Times pointed out how both sides "saw voters they never knew existed." While Democratic efforts were extraordinary and successful, they only tell part of the story.
Take the case of North Carolina. Sources told me that at the start of this election season, the black population was lethargic. The fervor of 2008 had long gone, often replaced by real reservations about Obama's compromises.
The local African-American community was outraged, and totally engaged. They felt that this was a return to the horrid old days of segregation and voter denial, part of the folk memory of this population (and anyone who studies American history).
The response was mobilization. Community groups of every kind vowed to do everything legal -- everything -- in their power to get out the vote and defeat the Republicans and their hated policies. Black veterans groups contacted every one of their members to get to the polls. Mothers groups, community organizations, churches pulled out all the stops. Calls were made, doors knocked on, rides promised. Most important, unlike any of the multi-billion dollar efforts by either party, these contacts were not anonymous; this was friends getting in touch with friends, to get everyone to the polls.
Furthermore, this was completely a grassroots situation. Democratic Party organizations had nothing to do with this. Even more interesting, they were not even contacted, not only was there no coordination, they didn't even know about this work. It was strictly within the community itself.
As a result, this entire effort was strictly below the radar. No political leader expected this, no political commentator has noticed it yet. A quick and hardly scientific scan of Google News under the heading "North Carolina Election Results" yields no word on this.
Pollsters also missed it completely. Even Nate Silver, the smartest poll analyst of our generation, never caught this. His ranking of North Carolina evolved from "Leaning Republican" to "Likely Republican," ending up with the ultimate accolade just before the election, "Safe Republican."
He was wrong; it was anything but. While the Democrats still lost, the margin was an awful lot closer than any of the political commentators expected. Romney got a bare majority, 50.6 percent, to Obama's 48.4 percent.
In many ways North Carolina is a case study of the national vote. In locale after locale, among group after group, it wasn't just the Democratic Party's efforts that carried the day. All across America, the Republican Party pissed off a wide array of the population with their policies, not just their candidate. Whether it be African-Americans with voter restrictions, or women with rape and abortion, Hispanics with anti-immigrant diatribes, or young people with regressive social attitudes, the Republicans mobilized their opposition, sometimes even more effectively than the Democratic Party organization did.
The Democrats didn't just win this election; a Tea Party influenced stance also lost it for the Republicans.