Will Jeff Merkley or Sherrod Brown now decide to run for the 2016 presidential nomination?

So who won the 2014 midterm elections?

The easy answer is the Republican Party.

On election night, the party managed to seize control of the Senate by picking up at least seven seats previously held by Democrats, a goal that has eluded Republicans since 2006.

The GOP also captured at least 14 House races, expanding its already sizable majority to at least 243 seats — the most it’s claimed since Harry Truman was president.

While a dizzying 14 gubernatorial races were tossups heading into Nov. 4, almost all of them broke toward the GOP — meaning that Republican governors will still vastly outnumber Democratic governors on Inauguration Day.

And Americans are plainly disillusioned with President Barack Obama; according to the exit polls, a full 54 percent of voters disapprove of his performance as president, and 65 percent say the country is headed in the wrong direction.

There was good reason, in other words, for conservative journalist Philip Klein to crow on Twitter that “this is what a wave feels like” — because it is.

But here’s the thing: In politics, the easy answer isn’t always the only answer, and the winner of an election isn’t always the one who benefits most. Take a closer look at demography, geography and the road ahead for the parties, and it’s clear that the long-term winner of the 2014 midterms wasn’t the GOP at all. The long-term winner, in fact, wasn’t even on the ballot this year.

Her name is Hillary Clinton.

Of course the GOP is celebrating right now, as it should. Any election that ends up putting Republicans into the governors’ mansions in Illinois and Maryland is worth getting worked up about. But under the surface, almost everything about last night’s midterm results — and the map, the math and the legislative morass that lies ahead in the run-up to 2016 — suggests that the former first lady and secretary of state could have a better next two years than the party currently guzzling champagne.

Which is not to say that Clinton will be unbeatable (even if her path to the Democratic nomination got a little easier after Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a likely rival, watched his hand-picked successor lose Tuesday night). Far from it. Clinton spent the last two months holding 45 campaign events in 18 hard-fought states, but almost all the big candidates she stumped for lost, from Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky to Bruce Braley in Iowa. Critics will say her campaign skills leave a lot to be desired, and she certainly won’t be heading into 2016 with many chits to cash in. But that doesn’t change one simple fact: Even Tuesday’s huge GOP victory shows that Republicans still have some catching up to do if they want to defeat her in 2016.

—  How Hillary Clinton won the 2014 midterms, Andrew Romano, Yahoo News, yesterday

Why, of course! Isn’t everything Democrat all about, always about, Hillary Clinton?  All Hillary Clinton, all the time?

Please stop.  PLEASE. STOP.

I read somewhere (I can’t remember where) this morning that Clinton is huddling today with some of the Clintons’ longtime political aides to analyze the election results and figure out how she should proceed.  Not whether she should proceed, but how.  And yesterday I read that she and her longtime aides are trying in light of the election results to figure out what her “messaging” should be.

Does anyone remember reading anything about Hillary Clinton and her impending campaign that doesn’t mention longtime aides, longtime associates, longtime supporters, longtime consultants?  Y’know, people in her “orbit”?  People who hope to profit directly from a Clinton campaign and then a Clinton presidency?  I sure don’t.

And, while—granted—the Yahoo News story I excerpt from above was published yesterday, the day after the election, rather than, say, today, two days after the election, it does show how thoroughly the political news and commentary media has precluded even from consideration that the Democratic Party recognizes Tuesday’s earthquake for what it is.  And what it is is a primal call for a Democratic presidential nominee who doesn’t have to search for and then settle on a message.  Someone who already had one of those.

One that is long steeped in what matters to voters and potential voters now: issues that can be addressed only by policies of populist economics.

The Democrats have won the culture-wars issues, everywhere except in Texas and the South, and it’s (past) time to accept their victory and move on from it.  They also have won the economic-policy issues.  It’s time for them to recognize that … and move on to it.  In depth.  In specifics.  In spades.

In other words, what they need—and soon—is a presidential candidate who really knows the specifics, the actual nitty-gritty, of these policies, because he or she has been deeply involved in and openly committed to them for a long time.

Last year, when it appeared likely that Obama planned to nominate Larry Summers to replace the retiring Ben Bernanke as Fed chairman—reportedly, Obama had offered it to Timothy Geithner, who declined; Timothy GeithnerSeriously!—three members of Senate Banking Committee told Obama that they would vote against Summers’ confirmation.  Those three members effectively nominated Janet Yellin, by forcing Obama’s hand.  Those three Banking Committee members were Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, and Jeff Merkley.

I’ve noted several times here at AB my abiding hope that Brown would run for the nomination, whether or not Clinton runs.  I know that others here and there have voiced the same hope, and I don’t know whether he would be interested were it not that Clinton has the entire Democratic establishment cowed, and if so, he might reconsider in light of Tuesday’s message.  But I’d also wondered whether Merkley has toyed with the idea of running against Clinton, once he was past his reelection campaign.  He won comfortably on Tuesday, albeit against an awful, self-imploding Tea Party opponent, in a largely liberal state that votes entirely by mail.

So … here are highlights about his Senate record, from Wikipedia:

Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, citing Bernanke’s failure to “recognize or remedy the factors that paved the road to this dark and difficult recession.” As a member of the Senate Banking Committee, Merkley became a leading force in the effort to pass the Wall Street reform bill. Along with Michigan Senator Carl Levin, successfully added an amendment, usually called the Volcker Rule, to the Dodd–Frank Wall Street reform bill, which banned high-risk trading inside commercial banking and lending institutions. Merkley also championed an amendment that banned liar loans, a predatory mortgage practice that played a role in the housing bubble and subsequent financial collapse.

He was a founding signatory of a mid-February 2010 petition to use reconciliation to pass legislation providing for a government-run health insurance program in the Senate. Merkley also championed legislation that provides new mothers with a private space and flexible break times to pump breast milk once they return to work. Merkley’s breastfeeding amendment was included in the health care reform law and signed into law by President Obama in 2010.

In late February 2010, Merkley again made headlines when he unsuccessfully tried to persuade Republican colleague Jim Bunning of Kentucky to drop his objection to passing a 30-day extension of unemployment benefits for jobless Americans. Bunning replied, “Tough shit.” A spokesman for Merkley claimed that the Oregon senator did not hear Bunning’s remark at the time.

In late 2010, Merkley began circulating a proposal to his fellow Senate colleagues about the need to force Senators to filibuster in order to block legislation.  In 2011, Merkley introduced a bill to reform the filibuster and help end gridlock in the Senate. He was joined by Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico and Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa.

Brown would have the advantage in the general election of being from large swing-state Ohio, and I suspect at this point that John Kasich will be a strong contender for the Repub nomination, as might Rob Portman.  But if he won’t run, then maybe—hopefully—Merkley will.

And, yes, in light of Tuesday, it’s conceivable that Elizabeth Warren will change her mind and run Certainly she will be urged to, more intensely than she has been.  But I don’t think she will.

But the nascent Ready for Warren movement could be easily adapted to a Ready for Sherrod or a Ready for Jeff movement.  And there are, I’m certain, some large Dem donors who have had more than enough of “women’s issues” campaigns and don’t give a damn whether the Clintons will cut them out, should Hillary win the nomination and the election.

It’s time now, folks, for an end to the Hillary Clinton obsession and an end to the Clintons’ campaign-industrial complex.  Really.

Maybe the long-term winner, in fact, was on the ballot this year, after all.

His name is Jeff Merkley.