It wasn't easy writing about the 2010 campaign for month after month with a growing sense of doom. And as Led Zeppelin sang, "The pain of war cannot exceed the woe of aftermath." Sigh. Ok, let's do this thing.
What went wrong, in one sentence: Any time unemployment is hovering near 10%, the people in power are going to lose the next election.
What went wrong, encapsulated in a single race. The open-seat race in Pennsylvania featured Republican Pat Toomey versus Democrat Joe Sestak. Toomey won 51% to 49%. A CNN/Time poll just before the election showed Toomey leading by four among likely voters, but Sestak winning by four among registered voters. So that means they polled a bunch of people who said they preferred the Democratic candidate, but who also said that they weren't voting this year. In races all over the country, Democrats faced this same problem.
Again, Democrats stayed home due to disappointment with the President and Congress over the economy. But that was only the tip of the iceberg. Democrats are disappointed about a lot of other things that the President and Congress didn't deliver. This subject deserves, and will get, a whole post of its own sometime soon right here on this blog.
Some other observations
Democrats aren't likely to get the House back in 2012
So maybe Obama will win in two years, and Democrats will flip the 20-odd seats they need to recapture House? Yes, it's possible. In fact, if Sarah Palin is the nominee, I'd almost guarantee it. But there are three reasons why Republicans are likely to keep the House for a few years. First, it's always the case that after the House changes hands, the survivors in the losing party retire in large numbers. Just wait and see; a bunch of House Democrats, finding that it's no fun to be in the minority, will move on to greener pastures (meaning they'll retire to take high-paying lobbying jobs). That means a bunch of open-seat races next time around, some of which will be juicy targets for the Republicans. Second, the decennial redistricting of the House happens next year, and it couldn't come at a worse time for Democrats, who just handed a bunch of state legislatures and Governor's offices over to the Republicans. That means the Republicans will totally control the redistricting process in a lot of states, and will naturally draw up the new districts so as to eliminate as many Democrats as possible. Lastly, in 2010 we saw corporate groups pour money into elections, mostly to the benefit of Republicans. Get ready to see that as a permanent fixture of American democracy.
Tea Party candidates were a disaster in statewide elections
Given a choice between semi-sensible conservatives and totally wacko Tea Party candidates as their nominees, Republicans mostly went for the tea baggers, and cost themselves a lot of races and a ton of money. Specifically:
* The GOP cost itself the Senate seats in Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware and Nevada by nominating tea baggers over more electable and only marginally less conservative candidates.
* The Republicans also chose tea baggers over more electable candidates in Florida and Kentucky. And while they won those races, they were forced to spend many millions of dollars that they would not have had to had they chosen nominees with broader appeal.
The biggest losers: Blue Dog Democrats
If you're not familiar with the Blue Dogs, they are House members, "identifying themselves as moderate-to-conservative Democrats committed to financial and national security and favoring compromise and bipartisanship over ideology and party discipline." The majority of the Blue Dogs lost their reelection bids this year; 27 went down to defeat and 26 survived. I've generally been an advocate of the Blue Dogs, because I'd rather see swing districts won by conservative Democrats than conservative Republicans, and because it's good to have debate within the Democratic party.
Unfortunately, for the past two years the Blue Dogs have foolishly sided with Republican nonsense more often than with their own party's agenda. As Markos said, the brunt of Democratic losses in the House were, "felt by the very same people who helped obstruct the Democratic agenda, who fought middle class tax cuts and the Public Option, and who fueled the "Dems are divided" narrative. We'll get rid of the hypocrites who, like their Republican BFF's, scream about "fiscal responsibility" while fighting desperately to cut taxes on the wealthiest." Now do you get it, Blue Dogs? If you want Democrats to vote for you, you're going to have to consider supporting the Democratic agenda. You're not going to magically win election by getting the votes of "conservative independents" or something.
I'm amazed to say this, but it was Senator Harry Reid, in his race against Tea bagger Sharron Angle, who showed Democrats how to win in a tough year like 2010. That is, to energize supporters by continuing to support and defend the Democratic agenda and the party's accomplishments. As Michael Blood of Huffington Post wrote, "Reid pointed to Angle's proposal to privatize Social Security as a defining contrast between them. He calls it one of the great government programs in history."
And finally: Congratulations, Governor Quinn
Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois trailed in all the polls right up to election day. I never met him personally in the years I worked in Illinois politics, although I knew some of the people who worked for him. Quinn is one of the nicest, most decent public servants in America, and I'm very pleased he was able to beat the odds and win election to a four-year term.
On to 2012. We're going to need more than hope.