As was generally predicted, the Republicans appear to have picked up about 65 House seats, the greatest one-year pickup they have had since 1894, and, though it is not certain, seven Senate seats, to close the Democratic lead to 52–48 and force Vice Pres. Joe Biden to stay close to the Capitol to break ties. It was only last year that the Democrats were exulting in their 60 Senate seats, and their presumptive ability to ram through the Obama program because the Republican Senate contingent was anemically small. This was itself an artifice, as the Democrats got to 60 only by the narrow defeat of Alaska senator Ted Stevens after a fraudulent prosecution that produced a conviction that has since been undone; the flight of long-serving Republican Arlen Specter, who faced a Republican primary defeat; and the delayed election in Minnesota of Al Franken by a series of county recounts by partisan local Democratic tribunals. And the errant Joe Lieberman, the Democratic vice-presidential candidate in 2000, who campaigned against Obama in 2008, was welcomed back into the unfilibusterable Democratic majority.
By the time the theft of the Minnesota Senate seat was complete, the Democratic nirvana was coming to an end, and the movement of opinion was clear from the Republican repossession of the Massachusetts Senate seat held for 57 years by John F. and Edward M. Kennedy. This was one of the storied prizes of the Congress; the future President Kennedy had taken the seat from Henry Cabot Lodge, who with his grandfather had held the seat for 45 of the preceding 59 years, which included the elder Lodge’s defeat of JFK’s grandfather and namesake, John F. “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, in 1916, and the younger Lodge’s defeat of the Rascal King, four-term Boston mayor James Michael Curley, in 1936. The senior Lodge was the closest collaborator of Theodore Roosevelt and architect of the defeat of American adherence to the League of Nations in 1920, and the younger Lodge was the presidential-campaign manager for Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952, and vice-presidential candidate with Richard M. Nixon in 1960. Arlen Specter couldn’t win renomination even as a Democrat, and Joe Lieberman’s partisan wanderlust may be expected to be fully revived as of midnight, Election Day. The move back to the Republicans of that Massachusetts Senate seat presaged tonight’s sweep.
Much will be made of the role of the Tea Party movement. This fractious and almost unorganized swath of voters is a seam of discontent that is somewhat reactionary; has libertarian, capitalist, nationalistic, traditional, and small-government tendencies; and believes that solutions should be local and referred to more distant authority only when all closer means to a solution have been exhausted. It lost the Republicans the Senate seat in Delaware, where the mainstream Republican would have won easily; the elevation of a Tea Party woman who had dabbled in exotic religion, was a militant homophobe, and inveighed against the evils of masturbation fumbled Joe Biden’s Senate seat, which Delaware longed to give the Republicans, back into the hands of the Democrats. The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, a nondescript pawn of the casino industry but a scrappy incumbent in the clutch, narrowly defeated Tea Partier Sharron Angle, who rose to prominence by becoming so annoyed with her local school board that she withdrew her children and educated them herself; this arrangement blossomed into a school that leeched away the pupils of the state school. But the Tea Partiers aided most winning Republicans, and contributed to the sharp polarization of the result: The Blue Dog (moderate) Democrats and remaining liberal Republicans went down in droves.