Going into Tuesday, the prevailing wisdom was that the Democrats were in for a big day, a reverse '94 of sorts. The Dems were supposed to take the House and maybe even make it a close margin in the Senate. I didn't buy it--I didn't see how the Dems were supposed to take back the government without an identifiable governing proposal.
After all, in 1994, Gingrich and the Republican candidates had the high-profile "Contract for America," which was a draw for voters. In this election, you had some Democrats running as hard anti-war, some as social conservatives, and some with no discernible agenda except reflexive anti-Bush messages. So, at best, I figured the Democrats would get the House back with a net gain of around 18-20 seats, and pick up 3 seats in the Senate.
Well, obviously I was wrong, because in a tour de force the Democrats have picked up at least 28 House seats (11 undecided), and amazingly, they may even take the Senate (+6 seats) if Jim Webb's narrow win in Virgina stands. For good measure, the Dems have even taken back the majority of the governor's mansions, thanks to 6 new pickups. Here in Maryland, incumbent Robert Ehrlich, who has had generally good reviews (and was endorsed by the Washington Post), got thrown out in favor of Martin O'Malley.
As I watched CNN all night until 4 a.m., when I finally went to bed, it dawned on me how badly I underestimated how much the country was desperate for "anything but Bush/Republican establishment." So many veteran G.O.P.ers got sent packing even by lightweight challengers. It didn't necessarily help to be a moderate or distance yourself from the White House, as Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee found out. Chafee, who many in his own party decry as a "RINO" (Republican in name only), had a cushy 72% approval rating, was against the war in Iraq, voted against the Bush tax cuts, supported stem cell research and gay rights, and was completely on the outs from the Republican establishment, still lost.
So though the Senate is not yet decided (but you have to at least assume the Dems have the upper hand there, because Allen must somehow get enough votes to make up the gap between him and Webb), we know one thing for sure: the Democrats have the House, and all of the chairmanships that entails, and Nancy Pelosi is the new Speaker of the House.
I've long been sharply critical of the Democratic leadership, namely Reid, Pelosi, and Dean, because they've been entirely focused on partisanship rather than ideas. The liberal talking heads on TV last night, such as Paul Begala, assure us that Pelosi (D-San Francisco) is a pragmatic politician who realizes now is the time to bolt to the center. I hope that's the case, because I don't want to see two years of just obstructionism--I'd like to see the government actually get things done. Bush-Pelosi needs to take a page out of Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill's relationship.
Meanwhile, we learned the immediate fallout of the Republicans' loss when the White House today announced that Donald Rumsfeld is out as Secretary of Defense, to be replaced by former CIA head Robert Gates. This result is to be expected, as Rumsfeld has been the piñata for the opposition. I hope the next two years see a conciliatory, not antagonistic White House, and that the Democratic congress will be constructive, not opportunistic.
I have faith that Bush, who is a more practical politician than most people would give him credit for, can make it work. And having made their statement by capturing both the House and Senate, Democrats no longer have a reason not to try and work with the president. Who knows, maybe the next 2 years could see the best climate on the Hill we've seen in a long time.