The victors include the names we’ve revered in previous incarnations: Rob Portman, former House member, former White House appointee, now a first-term senator from Ohio; John Hoeven, former banker, former governor, now a first-term senator from North Dakota; Dan Coats, former senator, former ambassador to Germany, now a “new” first-term senator from Indiana. The winners also include many representing the post-Reagan era, individuals not old enough to vote for Ronald Reagan in 1980 who came of age in a different era. Marco Rubio, former speaker of the Florida legislature, now the senator, was born in 1971 of Cuban immigrants. Sean Duffy, former star of Real World, former lumberjack, former county prosecutor, now a congressman from WI-7, was born in 1971. That’s two years after retiring Representative David Obey (D-WI 7) was elected for the first time. There are also people nobody outside their immediate circles ever heard of who took out experienced legislators. I have to wonder if Ron Johnson,a manufacturer, now the Wisconsin senator after beating Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), even remembers what he was doing two years ago last night. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, father of young triplets, beat the chair of House Budget, 14-term Representative John Spratt (D-SC 5).
How did all these people win? They won because voters of every political hue backed them. It was a victory for the amalgamated mainstream, despite the headlines for the tea party, despite the presence of large number of red-meat insurgent candidates who will now take their place in Congress. Ok, everyone else will tell you this was an election about Red taking over Blue, Republicans ousting Democrats.
It didn’t rain Red, it rained Purple. Pundits and pollsters and network anchors see party, voters see policies, performance, personality. Enthusiasm gap aside, it was more than an exceptional Republican ground game, aided by independent expenditure committees, pulling off perfect execution. This was an election about words, messages, messengers. Ornery voters were persuadable, sought information about newcomer candidates, and took a chance on what sounded more authentic than the party in power. Independents and disaffected Democrats voted for Republicans in states Obama won in 2008: Iowa, Ohio, North Carolina, Colorado, Virginia, Indiana, Florida, along with traditional blue states of Pennsylvania, Illinois, Wisconsin.
Purple reigns. Republicans didn’t succeed by recreating the coalition of 1980 or 2004, or converting the unaffiliated. The same Americans who voted for a Democratic Congress in 2006/2008 and put President Barack Obama in the White House turned around in 2010 and picked Republicans. Women, young, some college, Catholics, independents … the groups so critical to the Obama victory were, according to late October New York Times polls, as disappointed with the Obama presidency as many other demographic groups. These groups were willing to replace their own representatives. They were mistrustful of government to do the right thing. By the time the 2010 election came around, it was a very purple principle, not just Republican rhetoric, to want a change in Congress. I’ll bet when we study the exit polls we’ll find Republicans won close races because of Obama voters.
Purple reins. The restraint on the abuse of power belongs to the people who created a Democratic revolution in 2008 and a Republican revolution in 2010. The people who made the difference in this election are the ones who will hold elected officials accountable. They are the ones who nodded when Jon Stewart said on the Mall on Saturday that we are a country that has learned how to work together everywhere everyday to solve problems, except in Congress or on cable. Work together, tell us the truth, cut taxes, control spending, make government work, protect us from the bad guys, safeguard our rights … nothing very revolutionary in that, but neither party has figured out how to execute these basic citizen demands. Failure to do this in the 112th Congress, and the next election will be won by Someone Else and Other.
In the current climate, no political party or its leaders should be delusional enough to claim victory the morning after simply based on number counts. On the night of the 2008 election, President Obama had 365 electoral college votes, Democrats for a time had 60 Senate seats, and the House had 258 Democrats. Sarah Palin was the humiliated, parodied, defeated vice presidential loser. The San Francisco Giants had a winning record of .444. This week they won the World Series. Nothing lasts forever, power is fleeting. The 2010 election proved that no policy, ideology, party has the secret of fire. When everyone knows how to organize and everyone snatches a piece of hope, nobody controls anything for long without satisfying the Purple Party.