This really is a huge Democratic victory. As far as I can tell, not a single Democratic incumbent lost a governorship, or national legislative seat. Not. A. Single. One.
Democrats have a resounding victory in the House — gaining about 30 seats even before the dozen or so too-close-to-calls get called. And this in the face of the routine gerrymanders.
The Senate hangs by two threads, one in Virginia, one in Montana. I don’t pretend to grasp what on earth is going on in Montana, but if this is to be believed, there’s a decent chance Tester — one of the most attractive candidates this year — will pull through. Virginia, I suspect, is going to be litigated whatever happens. Even if the Democrats were to lose both contests, a four seat gain is a big victory. And the Democrats will control the Senate after 2008 unless something very odd happens in the Presidential election which contaminates the downballot.
Potentially even more important in the long term are two tectonic shifts signaled by this election.
The first is that the GOP is being reduced to a predominantly Southern party. Democrats have a lock on New England and I foresee greater gains in the West. That makes the mid-west the major battleground — and this election suggests that the mid-West may be reverting to its historically Democratic leanings.
The South is not as different from the rest of the country as it used to be — although it is more evangelical — so being Southern-dominated is not the albatross it once was. Nevertheless, regional dominance of any sort is not a recipe for national success. And evangelical dominance is not a national vote-winner in this Elmer Gantry moment.
The second shift is internal: the new model Democratic party is much more populist than it was last week. Just as the GOP has lost some of its nastiest and stupidest representatives (along, yes, with a few good ones) such as Tom DeLay (by resignation), “Count” Chocola, and Pombo, so too the Democrats elected to the House are by and large smart, insurgent, outsiders.
They are mostly anti-Iraq, (too?) suspicious of free trade, pro-consumer, and pro-health care. They tend libertarian on social issues, although the picture here is more mixed. They will help move the party caucus outside of the comfortable Beltway consensus which has threatened to dominate it. Many owe their elections to Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy which was overwhelmingly vindicated in this election. Others owe their funding to the ‘netroots’ — bloggers llike myDD, Firedoglake, and DailyKos. And they know it.
So when establishment Democrats like Rahm Emmanuel join forces with Republican commentators to explain how the Democratic vote was really quite conservative, take it for the spinning and wishful thinking that it is. Because while far from powerless, the establishment wing of the Democratic party just got significantly less relevant. And they know it too. They just don’t want us to know it.