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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Exorcising Demons of 1994

In 1994, I was a young volunteer and activist working on a Congressional Campaign for Walter Capps. By the time the polls had closed on the West Coast at 8 pm, there was a new Speaker of the House--Newt Gingrich and the Republicans had won the Senate as well. Small consolation in California was that Senator Feinstein was spared in a very close victory over Michael Huffington who spent tens of millions.

A funny thing happened that night though, as the results came in for the 22nd Congressional Race, Capps--a religious studies professor and political neophyte who was taking on then Assemblywoman Andrea Seastrand a long time political figure who was the widow of Eric Seastrand a long-time Republican office holder. Seastrand a firebrand Conservative who fit in well with the "revolutionary" class of 1994. On the worst Democratic night at least since 1980 and perhaps since well before, Capps was holding his own, going toe-to-toe with Seastrand. In the end, he literally fell a few hundred votes short of a victory. Two years later he would claim that victory, but he passed away in 1997 as he finished the first year of his first term. His wife, Lois Capps has been in Congress ever since.

That night, I went to bed somewhere after 3 am, exhausted, the reality of the day hadn't really hit me quite yet. In the morning, the alarm goes off and there is Paul Harvey on the radio, gloating. A herd of dancing elephants rampaged through Washington last night, he said. It turned my stomach. It was the dagger that made everything real.

I'll never forget that moment. When history writes of November 7, 2006, they will note that the Democrats took 28 seats in the House and 6 in the Senate. That former number might creep up to 30. If you compare those raw numbers of seats chaniging hand, it will be fairly unremarkable in the annals of history. And yet, those numbers will belie just how improbable what happened would occur. You see, we might have projected this for the past month or so, but go back in time and this was exceedingly unlikely.

The environment at the beginning of 2006 looked poisonous for the president, but the number of marginal house seats was exceedingly low. Most pundits could point to 12, maybe 18, at the very most. They just didn't see the Democrats winning all of those. Democrats held 18 of the 31 Senate seats. Remember this is the same batch of Senate seats that the Democrats took in 2000 to even up the Senate at 50-50. This is the only class where Democrats had the majority of Senate Seats. There were at most 8 Republican seats in play and Democrats needed to take six of them. But it was even harder than that--Democrats had won in Redstates like Nebraska and Florida last time. They had to hold off tough challengers in Minnesota, Michigan, Washington, New Jersey and Maryland. Even on Tuesday afternoon, NO ONE, honestly believed the Democrats could take the Senate.

I say all of this to show how improbable what happened was. Scandals, Iraq, and general discontentment put as many as 50 seats in play. Democrats have won 28 so far, I think by the time it's done, may 30 will go to the Democrats, far more than anyone ever thought possible six months ago. In the Senate, the Democrats got fortunate as there were weak challengers in Nebraska and Florida. Katherine Harris was an embarrassment to the Republican party (at little payback for 2000 no doubt to see her clocked cleaned). Democrats won big in Minnesota and Michigan where there could have been tough races. Even Maryland and New Jersey went by almost double digits. The Democrats did not lose a single incumbent in the House, Senate, or Governor, and they did not lose a single-seat previously held. That's amazing.

But what happened in the Senate was nothing short of miraculous. First, Pennsylvannia--everyone knew that Santorum was dead and he stayed dead. In Ohio, it was a massacre of DeWine and Strickland beat the nemesis of 2004, Blackburn. So nice payback there. Those were the two givens. Rhode Island, honestly I like Lincoln Chafee, I worked with his father in the Senate on some legislation back in the day, he was good man and really a liberal. But Democrats needed that state and won it. Missouri was a battle to bone and McCaskill beat back a very conservative Jim Talent to win that. Montana is one of the most conservative states in the country, Tester is no one's idea of Democrat, but he's a populist and was able to beat Burns--a thoroughly corrupt man.

And finally in Virginia--George Allen was the darling of the conservatives and apsirant for the 2008 Presidential Nomination and possibly the Conservative frontrunner. He was poised to win and win big until he slipped up with the now infamous "Mackaka" reference. Anyone who doubts the power of new technology look no further than Montana and Virginia. Both incumbents slipped up and got caught on home video. The difference between now and 2006 is Youtube. They put it on Youtube and the gaffe's spread immensley. Burns attacked firefighters and Allen made some unforgiveable statements about a native Virginian because of the color of his skin. Power to the bloggers! They ultimately did not win in Connecticut, but I think they'll trade Connecticut for Montana and Virginia. Now the Democrats need to govern.

We have a lot of work left to do in Yolo County, but despite the disappointing local results, I went to bed last night finally after being up for nearly two days with a big smile on my face knowing that the Speaker of the House is Nancy Pelosi and that the Democrats control congress.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting