SALUTE TO RUSS: Wisconsin progressive Russ Feingold did not lose his Senate seat because he was the only senator to oppose the Patriot Act, or because he was the first senator to call for timelines to bring the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan, or because he was the Senate’s most consistent opponent of job-killing free-trade deals. And he certainly did not lose because he was one of the few Democrats to vote against the Wall Street bailout of 2008.
The man who beat Feingold, Republican millionaire Ron Johnson, did not spend much of his vast campaign budget on ads addressing those issues. Rather, Johnson attacked Feingold for backing Obama’s stimulus bill and healthcare reform legislation. Johnson’s bogus claim was that Feingold was just a cookie-cutter Democrat who followed the party line. This was disproved by studies showing that Feingold was one of the most independent members of the Senate, and one of the few who consistently challenged presidents of both parties on constitutional and economic issues.
But in a hyperpartisan political moment, Feingold struggled to be heard by independ- ent voters who had traditionally supported him. He made the race far closer than the polls suggested it would be. But this was the year of Sarah Palin’s faux mavericks—not the sort of old-school men and women of principle whose tradition Feingold maintained for eighteen years. In the end, money and negative ads robbed our country of one of the handful of senators who proudly wore the label “progressive.” JOHN NICHOLS
BLUE ISLAND: Before the 2004 election, Republicans controlled almost every lever of power in Colorado: the governor’s mansion, both Senate seats, five of seven Congressional districts and both state houses. After the 2008 election, that power imbalance was reversed, with Democrats triumphing in this rapidly changing purple state. Republicans were supposed to take control again this year, but Colorado proved to be “a Democratic island in a GOP storm,” as the Denver Post put it.
Democrats easily held the governor’s mansion (Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper prevailed over Constitution candidate Tom Tancredo and Republican Don Maes), narrowly retained the Senate seat of Michael Bennet and limited their House losses to two. Colorado is a classic example of Tea Party overreach, where Republicans squandered their chances by nominating extremists like Maes and Ken Buck. Voters also rejected three tax-slashing ballot measures, an initiative to block the implementation of healthcare reform and an antichoice proposal to define a fetus as “personhood.” On a terrible night for Democrats, rays of hope still flickered out West. ARI BERMAN
BEYOND PROP 19: For drug policy reformers, the cascade of losses on November 2 was curiously invigorating. Fifty-four percent of California voters rejected Prop 19, which would have legalized the use and sale of recreational pot, and medical marijuana initiatives went down in Arizona, Oregon and South Dakota. But amid defeat was the growing conviction that larger victories lie ahead. Thanks to a well-run grassroots campaign, ample funding and widespread media attention, the liberalization of drug policy has emerged as a mainstream issue with broad appeal—particularly among young voters, 64 percent of whom supported Prop 19. Although reform advocates didn’t tip the balance this fall, they’re already geared up to push for similar ballot measures in 2012. As top legalization proponent Richard Lee noted, “We will be coming back, stronger than ever.” MARK SORKIN