Now that Democrats have won the House and the Senate, the mainstream media and the right-wing noise machine have already started to spin the results. According to them, most of the new Democrats who were elected are “conservative,” and so the new Congress must tread lightly when they take on the President. Nothing can be further from the truth. Democrats won because they challenged the Bush regime on Iraq, and a close look at each individual race shows a renewed party of feisty candidates who were not afraid to challenge the status quo. We can explain the multiple factors that led to the Democratic landslide, but they certainly did not win because they moved to the right. Meanwhile, in local politics, Mayor Gavin Newsom is trying to play down the fact that he was the biggest loser on Election Night -- but he's not fooling anybody.
Let’s first look at the Senate races. In Vermont, Bernie Sanders became the first card-carrying socialist ever elected to the U.S. Senate. In Ohio, Sherrod Brown is a staunch pro-labor Democrat who was never afraid to stand up for progressive principles. In Montana, Jon Tester is a populist organic farmer who wants to repeal the Patriot Act. In Virginia, Jim Webb may have been Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy – but he ran on an explicit anti-war platform. And while Bob Casey in Pennsylvania is a pro-life Democrat, he’s more progressive on economic issues – and the bigger side of the story is that he defeated Rick Santorum, one of the most homophobic bigots in Washington.
Here in California, everyone is excited that Republican Congressman Richard Pombo lost. But we forget that his opponent, Jerry McNerney, was the liberal candidate in the Democratic primary – and the party establishment even ran a more moderate candidate against him. After he won in June, the party believed that McNerney was “too liberal” for that district, and withdrew their resources. It was only in the last few weeks when polls showed that Pombo was vulnerable that the Party suddenly had a renewed interest. Now, of course, they’re taking credit for his win.
In New Hampshire, Democrat Carol Shea-Porter upset Congressman Jeb Bradley because of her anti-war grass-roots campaign. In fact, both House seats in New Hampshire flipped to the Democrats because voters were angry at George Bush and the War in Iraq. New Hamsphire is the only state that voted for Bush in 2000 and Kerry in 2004, and recent trends show that it’s joining the rest of New England as the most solidly progressive part of the country.
If you look at the overall map, it’s clear that most of the Democratic gains came from blue states – or at least from districts that are not politically conservative. Many of the Republicans who lost were moderate incumbents who had managed to get re-elected for years in places where voters did not approve of George Bush. This is significant because now that a Democrat represents those areas, they will be able to take progressive stands without fearing reprisal from their constituents.
In Florida, Congressman Clay Shaw lost his Palm Beach district after holding on to it for 26 years – in an area that generally votes Democratic. This is a particularly sweet victory because Shaw wrote the 1996 Welfare Bill that ended the federal government’s safety net for poor people. Now that he won, Ron Klein won’t have to pander to the right like so many “red-state Democrats” do on a regular basis.
In the House, Democrats picked up three seats in New York and four seats in Pennsylvania. In Connecticut, Nancy Johnson lost despite being a pro-choice Republican who had represented her district since 1982. Democrat Chris Murphy defeated her as an anti-war candidate who embraced Ned Lamont’s candidacy.
But nowhere is this more obvious than in Rhode Island, where Senator Lincoln Chaffee lost – despite being the only Senate Republican to vote against the Iraq War. In short, Democrats have cobbled together a majority of seats in both houses of Congress where most members can afford to be “progressive.”
According to Markos Moulitsas at Daily Kos
, only five of the Democrats who won House seats can truly be called “conservative” – Heath Shuler in North Carolina, Nick Lampson in Texas (who won Tom DeLay’s seat), and the three Democratic pick-ups in Indiana. As Moulitsas wrote, “the notion that it's ‘conservative’ Democrats who won last night is utter hogwash, a desperate gambit by Republicans to try and spin something good from the election.”
In San Francisco, Gavin Newsom is trying to spin the local results – despite the fact that he was clearly the biggest loser
on Election Night. Newsom spokesman Peter Ragone told Steve Jones
of the Bay Guardian that they “didn’t put a lot into” helping Rob Black and Doug Chan – and that their main priority was Hydra Mendoza, who was elected to the School Board.
Oh really? What about the hundreds of thousands of Downtown money – a truly unprecedented amount -- that was poured into both District 4 and District 6? What about Newsom and Dianne Feinstein campaigning for Doug Chan in the Sunset? How about Newsom campaigning with Rob Black in the heart of the Mission – as Pat Murphy’s photos on the San Francisco Sentinel so abundantly prove?
And while it’s true that Mendoza won, she came in second place – when she was widely expected to come in first. Newsom’s other candidates for School Board finished far behind, hardly a “ringing endorsement” of the Mayor’s agenda.
Newsom can only point to two winners who he endorsed – Mendoza and Supervisor Bevan Dufty in District 8. Both won because they each have an independent base of support apart from the Mayor. Dufty has a reputation for being a responsive Supervisor for his Castro constituents, and Mendoza has a long track record advocating for parents. Even David Latterman of Plan C said the following about Newsom – “it’s not that he has no coattails. He doesn’t have a coat.”
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