The Nation

So Close

With early morning wins in the tightly-contested states of Missouri and Montana, and with Virginia tipping toward them, Democrats ended one of the most intense election nights in recent American history with control of the Senate in their grasp.

It was almost 3 a.m. in Washington when Democrat Jon Tester was declared the winner over Republican incumbent Conrad Burns in the distant state of Montana. That victory came about an hour after Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill won Missouri for the Democrats.

And as the night wore on in the last state of Virginia, Democratic challenger Jim Webb opened up a steadily wider lead in his campaign to oust Republican Senator George Allen.

If the Webb lead holds, it's a 51-49 Democratic Senate.

Here's how Democrats did it:

Every Democratic incumbent and Democrat seeking a seat currently held by the party was elected. That gave the party 45 seats.

Republican incumbents lost in the aforementioned Missouri and Montana, as well as in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. That gave them a 5O-5O split.

So it came down to Virginia. An Allen win would have created a tied Senate, where Vice President Dick Cheney would tip the balance.

But a Webb win would put Cheney on the sidelines.

And it looks like that is where the vice president will be standing.

Late into the night, Webb's lead was tiny -- only about 3,000 votes

But as the evening wore on, Webb's margin slowly expanded.

By the time that Missouri and Montana were declared, Webb had opened up a 7,5OO lead. That's no landslide, but it's a bigger margin than can usually be upset by a recount.

If Webb's lead holds, it's a Democratic Senate.

There will, of course, be speculation about what Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman will do.

The Democratic nominee for vice president in 2OOO lost his party's August primary to anti-war businessman Ned Lamont. On Tuesday, however, running as an independent, Lieberman beat Lamont.

Throughout the campaign, Lieberman pledged to caucus with the Senate Democrats. At the end, the senator teased that, "I would like to see this election today as a declaration of independence from the politics of partisanship."

That may have caught the ear of White House political czar Karl Rove, who was surely pondering the question of whether he might yet come up with an offer that Lieberman couldn't refuse.

But Lieberman quietly received assurances in October, as he opened a poll lead over Lamont, that Democratic leaders in the Senate would welcome him into their caucus and maintain his seniority. "Caucuses like to keep as many members as they can, not discourage membership," noted Lieberman.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, is fully aware that he needs Lieberman. Lieberman is fully aware that his commitment to caucus with the Democrats contributed to his reelection win on Tuesday.

Bottom line: It looks as if the voters have decided to give the Democrats control of both houses of Congress.

Payback Time

Payback's a bitch.

There is no way to spin the election results. They were a repudiation of George W. Bush, his party, his agenda, and his war. The commander-in-chief argues that he is fighting a war in Iraq that is essential to the survival of the United States. The electorate sent a message: we don't buy it. Political genius Karl Rove and GOP chieftain Ken Mehlman, with their scare tactics (defeatist Democrats will surrender to the terrorists; Nancy Pelosi will destroy the nation) and below-the-belt ads, were not able to defy popular sentiment. Comeuppance was the order of the day. Because of Bush, R became a scarlet letter. In Rhode Island, incumbent Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee, a moderate who voted against the war in 2002 and against Bush in 2004, enjoyed a 66 percent approval rating; still, voters sent him packing. Children, pay attention. If you're a president who misleads the nation into war and then mismanages that war, you might sneak past a reelection but then bring ruin upon your party. The Bush-wreaked reality trumped the Rove-designed rhetoric--finally. The voters chose not to stay his course. The market worked.

The Democrats won control of the House and came close with the Senate. As of 1 am, in Virginia, Reaganite-turned-Democrat Jim Webb was barely ahead of Senator George "Macaca" Allen--though a recount seemed likely. In Missouri, the Senate race was a virtual tie. If the Democrats should win in each, the Senate would be theirs. However, Tennessee--where Democrats were trying to elect Representative Harold Ford Jr., an African-American--was a bridge too far. [See update below.] But even without the Senate, the Democrats will now be able to counter Bush and advance a platform of their own.

At a victory party at a Capitol Hill hotel--attended by thousands of Democrats, many wearing a badge proclaiming, "A New Direction for America"--a senior House Democratic staffer said, "The word has come on down from on high: no gloating. Those of us who were around in 1994 remember Republicans telling us that we were no longer needed and could get lost--literally. We've been told to handle this differently." But it's certainly true that the House Democrats have assumed power in a slightly less triumphant manner than did the GOP in the so-called Republican Revolution of 1994. Though Democrats did have an agenda for the campaign, they know that the election was a referendum on Bush and the rubber-stamp Republicans, not their pet legislative ideas. As Senator Chuck Schumer, the head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee proclaimed, "the message of this election came down to one word: change." That is, boot Bush's compatriots out of office. To do this, voters had to go Democratic.

The voters have "reluctantly given us the keys," said Terry McAuliffe, a former head of the Democratic Party. And, he added, the Democrats will have to prove themselves--quickly. How to do so? By briskly passing legislation on popular issues--boosting the minimum wage, increasing homeland security funding, lowering interest rates on college loans, empowering the federal government to negotiate with pharmaceutical comapnies to achieve lower drug prices for Medicare. Even if such legislation dies in a Republican-controlled Senate or is vetoed by Bush, the Democrats can shape the the coming presidential election. (Another major win in a night of wins for the Democrats was the election of Representative Ted Strickland as governor of Ohio. "You can't win the presidency without Ohio," McAuliffe noted. And with a Democrat running the state, the Ds will have an advantage there in 2008.)

As for the Republicans, this election will unleash the furies within that party. In sorting out this defeat, GOPers will find themselves confronting their internal conflicts. Social conservatives will square off against economics-first libertarians. The party could split along other line--between those who stick with Bush and those who want to cut and run from the albatross-in-chief. It could all get quite acrimonious, especially with 2008 politics influencing the blame-game. Republicans could end up looking like Democrats.

But the bottom line is clear: the Bush presidency is over. At least, as Bush and Dick Cheney have envisioned it. They can no longer act imperiously. They have lost the public. And there is now an opposition that can check and investigate their actions abroad and at home. But the Democrats still have to complete the sale. At the victory bash, Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi declared, "We need a new direction in Iraq." She didn't say what it would be. The Democratic victory--as sweet as it is for the Democrats--is very much an unfinished work.

UPDATE: As of 2:00 AM, Democrat Claire McCaskill had been projected the winner in the Missouri Senate race, and Jim Webb was leading George Allen in Virginia, by 12,000 votes, with 99 percent of the precincts reporting. Webb was also ahead in all of the counties not fully reported. It looked as if the Democrats would finish election night ahead in enough races to take control of the Senate. But in Virginia, there will probably be a recount--and perhaps a major legal battle.


DON"T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR, the best-selling book by David Corn and Michael Isikoff. Click here for information on the book. The New York Times calls Hubris "the most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations" and "fascinating reading." The Washington Post says, "There have been many books about the Iraq war....This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." Tom Brokaw notes Hubris "is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.

Democrats Gone Wild

Former DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe walked in the ballroom where House and Senate Democrats were congragating around 10 pm with a big smile on his face. At 11:11 pm, when CNN announced a Democratic takeover of the House of Represenatives, that optimism soon turned into electricity.

As our colleague David Corn mentioned, Democrats haven't been this excited in years--possibly since Bill Clinton took the Presidency in 1992.

A Democratic Senate aide said this was the first election he's ever experienced that didn't end badly. We all remember the nightmare of 2000. The Republican rout in 2002. The harrowing dissapointment of 2004. It seemed like what we thought would occur in 2004 would actually happen in 2006. And it did.

CNN is projecting a 30 + seat Democratic victory in the House. The Senate is on the precipice. As tonight's festivities demonstrate, it's a whole lot more fun to live in a country no longer governed by one party rule.

Praising Arizona

With 94 percent of the vote reporting, it looks like Arizona's Prop. 107, the gay marriage ban will go down -- 51.6 percent against it, 48.4 percent for it. Of particular interest is Maricopa county (home of Phoenix) which went against the ban. Pima county, home of liberal Tucson, played a big part in the victory -- defeating the amendment by large margins.

Cindy Jordan, chair of No on 107, credits the victory (if it occurs, knock on wood) to grassroots efforts.The big national gay organizations have been notably absent there, and the campaigns have been smart about attracting voters from both conservative Phoenix and liberal Tucson with targeted messages and tactics. "We did this with no national help," says Jordan, "this grassroot's effort was local."

Unfortunately, the anti-immigrant initiatives there are passing by wide margins -- some over 70 percent.

South Dakota Abortion Ban Defeated

Voters in South Dakota have defeated a draconian ban on abortions, which would have outlawed the procedure in every instance, except to save the life of the mother.

This contest was an important battleground for the grass-roots far-right forces in their quest to overturn Roe v Wade.

It was also an important test of pro-choice strategy; could democracy--something reproductive rights organizations have often been afraid of--be a better guardian of our rights than the legislature or the courts?

In this case, it proved to be.

California: Arnold and Jerry Big Winners

Partial returns in California still suggest the Golden State might, in an odd way be one the better Red success stories tonight.

Schwarzenegger was immediately projected as re-elected the moment the polls closed. Now the question is just how miserable a finish Democrat Phil Angelides will have. So far, it seems, he risks not getting much more than 40% of the vote and perhaps a lot less.

The downward pressure from the top of the ticket is putting several statewide Democrats at risk. And at this moment, with about 10% of the vote tallied and the caveat that the night here is still young, most of those Dems are trailing.

Except for former Governor and former Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown who is way, way out in front in his run for attorney general. Brown emerges tonight as the most popular Democrat in the state and is likely to greatly elevate the profile of the office he will now hold.

Brown has always been at least neutral on Schwarzenegger and they may now become California's new political odd couple.

There are a couple of contested congressional seats in the state, those held by Republicans Doolittle and Pombo. To soon to call, but it looks like the former may survive while the latter could sink into his own pool of corruption.

Arizona's 8th District Goes Blue

At this hour of just after 8 pm Pacific, the first significant results are coming in here in the west. And as expected, the first congressional seat to flip Democratic is Arizona's 8th district. As predicted, Democrat Gabby Gifford walloped pro-minuteman GOP rival Randy Graf.

And as I write, CNN has just projected a Democratic majority for the House.

A couple of more victories in the west, like the defeat of Arizona incumbent J.D. Hayworth, and New Mexico congresswoman Heather Wilson would broaden the new majority.

We'll update those races as more info comes in.

Wisconsin and South Carolina Pass Marriage Bans

The AP is reporting that marriage bans have passed in South Carolina, Wisconsin and Virginia. In South Carolina 80% of voters approved a ban that not only eliminates the possibility of gay marriage, but also domestic partnerships and other forms of relationship recognition. Wisconsin, which many LGBT leaders had hoped would break the other way, also approved their ban. Fair Wisconsin, the group leading the fight against the marriage amendment, has mobilized thousands of volunteers, and polls were quite tight. The NGLTF sent several staffers there to campaign and do election protection. So it's a dispiriting loss.

Missouri and Ohio Raise the Minimum Wage

This evening's good news goes far beyond the obvious. (Obvious being, Republicans take a pounding, and cretins like Rick "Man-on-Dog" Santorum join the ranks of the unemployed.) Bernie Sanders became America's first Socialist Senator in history, beating his Republican opponent by a huge margin. When I heard Sanders speak a few months ago, he noted that his focus on economic justice was key to his appeal to socially conservative, patriotic rural white people. (Unlike many of the Democrats that are picking up seats tonight, Sanders doesn't do this by becoming a social conservative himself.) It does look like where they were given a chance to do so this year, many people voted for a slightly more humane economic order. Voters in Missouri (74%) and Ohio(65%) have overwhelmingly chosen to raise the state minimum wage to $6.50 and $6.85, respectively. The minimum wage issue was expected to affect other races by turning out the Democratic base in the way that gay marriage may have turned Republicans out to vote in 2004; it's too soon to say whether that happened. Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and Montana also have minimum wage initiatives on the ballot; the pre-election opinion polls looked good, but stay tuned.