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Real Democrats

Just one year ago--hell, even a few months ago--the unanimous viewamong the Democrats' strategic sages was that the only drama in theSouth this fall would be whether the region's few remaining statewideDemocratic office-holders could hold on to their jobs. Could SenatorBill Nelson hold off Katherine Harris, America's tackiest theocrat, inFlorida? Could Gov. Phil Bredesen show his conservative cojones bycutting enough folks off state health care to hold on in ultra-redTennessee?

After the 2004 wipeout of five Democratic Senate seats in the South,many national Democrats were pleased to think that their long-runningdebate--can we win in the Dixie, and should we even try?--had beensettled. Settled in the negative, that is. Thomas Schaller's recentbook, Whistling Past Dixie, brought together years' worth ofpoll-tested memoranda in calling for the Democratic Party to kiss offthe nation's largest region. It was just a more polite version of one ofthe most popular post-election blogs from the bitterness of late 2004:"Fuck the South."

Tonight, the South--aka "Jesusland"--has a message for thosenational Democratic wizards: No, fuck you. If the Senate lands inDemocratic hands, it'll be thanks to Claire McCaskill's triumph inMissouri and Jim Webb's stunning win in Virginia over the man who wasonce conservative Republicans' great hope for the White House in 2008.It will not be thanks to the candidate who ran the sort of Southerncampaign the sages called "perfect"--Harold Ford Jr. in Tennessee,who went far beyond triangulation and out-Republicaned his opponentwith hard lines on gay marriage, immigration, national defense, guns,and an array of Bible quotes that could whip John Ashcroft in aholiness contest any day.

McCaskill, a hard-nosed former prosecutor, and Webb, atough-as-beef-jerky former Republican cabinet officer, are nobody'sidea of wild-eyed liberals. But they both ran campaigns that stubbornlybucked conventional wisdom for Southern Democrats running statewide inthe last two decades. Running against hardcore Christian conservativeincumbents, neither of them triangulated. They were unwaveringlypro-choice; they called for sharp changes in Iraq policy; McCaskill opposedanti-gay marriage hoo-ha; and they ran as old-fashioned, blue-collar,labor-embracing economic populists. As what used to be calledDemocrats, that is.

"It's back to the traditional Democratic Party, which was founded onthe health of the working person," Webb told me earlier this fall. Inher victory speech this morning, McCaskill highlighted the same theme:"Once again," she said, "the Democratic Party has claimed HarryTruman's Senate seat for the working people of Missouri."

For the working people. It's a sequence of words Democrats havecontinued to mouth, but it's been a long time since anybody living inanything smaller than a McMansion had much call to believe it.

Truly championing the working class--and winning these folks' votes--means plunging in among them. That is what national Democrats areafraid to do. It's what John Kerry had in mind early in 2004, when hesniffed about how "everybody always makes the mistake of looking South" forDemocratic votes. Despite forty years of steady economic growth in theregion, the South still has more poor, struggling and badly educatedAmericans--black and white--than anywhere else in the country.

Those were the people who won Missouri and Virginia for the Democratsthis year. Not because they finally woke up and realized where theirtrue economic interests lay. McCaskill and Webb won because they tooktheir campaigns directly into the Republicans' working-classstrongholds. In the Bible Belt Ozarks of Southern Missouri, McCaskillcampaigned hard, emphasizing her blue-collar message without runningaway from her pro-stem cell, pro-choice, anti-war message. It paid offin the biggest Republican county in the state, Greene, where earlypolls showed Republican Jim Talent winning a mere 53 percent of thevote--a huge change from recent elections.

Webb stumped hard in Southwest Virginia, conservative hill country thathas provided Republicans with their statewide margins in Virginia forthree decades now. He did not thicken his accent to charm the folksdown there; he did not excise the Marx and Engels references from hishigh-falutin speeches when he campaigned in the deepest, mostconservative hollows. Like McCaskill, he spoke to folks in the sametone, with the same messages, that he used in liberal urbanstrongholds. It won't be so easy for Dixiephobic Democrats to make a"forget the South" argument now. As a recent Pew study found, theSouth's famously militaristic folks have turned against the Iraq warjust as fiercely as the rest of the country. In Virginia, folks werenot distracted by an anti-gay marriage amendment. In Missouri, folkswere not distracted by this year's hot initiative issue, a stem-cellamendment. For years, they've been voting for Republicans with whomthey disagreed on a host of issues; this time, they voted for Democratswith social and foreign-policy views that were often downright liberal.

The war mattered, but the working-class message made the difference forboth McCaskill and Webb. It wasn't just their policy positions, whichmimicked those of national Democrats in most ways. It was the way theyshowed up -- over and over again -- in places where Democrats(according to the sages) are supposed to avoid. On Election Day,McCaskill veered from her planned schedule and made the long tripdownstate to shake hands at a polling place in Greene County. LikeWebb, she looked rural and Christian Right folks in the eye, asked fortheir votes, and told them where she stood without trimming the edgesoff her progressive views. And like Webb, she got more votes from thosefolks than any chart, graph, poll or wishful thought could haveconjured up.

No message from this triumphal mid-term election should ring moreloudly than this. The South cannot be written off by the DemocraticParty. More precisely, Southerners cannot be written off by theDemocratic Party. The key to winning the votes of rural andworking-class people in Dixie is the same as everywhere else inAmerica. Nobody said it better than that great old Southern liberalactivist, Strange Fruit author Lillian Smith. "A vote," she wrote inKillers of the Dream, "...is a small thing to give a man who hasmade you feel revered for the first time in your life."

The Iraq War Election

What is a one-word description for an anti-war Democrat? "Winner."

Despite all the attempts to spin Tuesday's election results as something else, the single most important message to take away from the voting is this: The American people cast their ballots against the Bush administration's approach to the war in Iraq Tuesday.

Pro-war Republican majorities in the House and Senate were upset.

And the standout successes were those of Democrats who ran on explicitly anti-war platforms. It wasn't just apparent winner Jim Webb, the former Republican who switched parties because of his anger over the war and ran against pro-war Virginia Republican Senator George Allen. It wasn't just Sherrod Brown, a leading House critic of the war, who beat Ohio Republican Senator Mike DeWine. It wasn't just Jon Tester, the Montana Democrat who won his primary after taking a strong anti-war position and went on to distinguish himself in the fall campaign by opposing the occupation that Republican incumbent Conrad Burns supported.

The most dramatic anti-war wins came in races that most media was not even following. Consider the contest in the 1st district of New Hampshire. Democrat Carol Shea-Porter had little name recognition, little money, few high-profile endorsements and almost no support from the national party for her campaign.

What Shea-Porter had was her anti-war stance, and grassroots volunteers who were attracted by the opportunity to support someone who pulled no punches when it came to challenging the Bush administration. In 2005, when President Bush came to the New Hampshire city of Portsmouth, Shea-Porter showed up wearing a T-shirt that read "Turn your back on Bush." She was removed from the event.

Her response was to run for Congress against popular Republican incumbent Jeb Bradley. And her issue was the war. "The United States must physically leave, abandon our 'lone wolf' approach, and work with other nations to stabilize Iraq," she said.

Shea-Porter didn't stop there. "Americans have spent billions on this unnecessary war only to see tragedy, fraud, and waste," the Democrat argued. "We must determine what went wrong to lead us into the war and provide taxpayers with a strict accounting of the spending. We must prosecute any companies who stole from us and we should then continue this fiscal oversight of our money as we finance the repairs of the war damage in Iraq."

Many national Democrats quietly argued that Shea-Porter and other explicitly anti-war candidates -- such as Zack Space, who won a Republican seat in Ohio, and John Yarmuth, who upset Republican Congresswoman Anne Northrup in Kentucky -- were too aggressive in their criticism of the president's military misadventure.

On Tuesday, however, the anti-war message won.

In New Hampshire, Shea-Porter prevailed over Bradley by a 52-48 margin. It was a close win, to be sure. But it was a win that few if any Democratic strategists or political pundits anticipated. And it was a win that could be attributed to one factor: the willingness of Carol Shea-Porter to run hard and strong against a bad war and the president who started it.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism is being published this month by The New Press. "With The Genius of Impeachment," writes David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, "John Nichols has produced a masterpiece that should be required reading in every high school and college in the United States." Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: 'Bugger off!' So should we say today. John Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so." The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

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.

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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.