Random thoughts as dawn breaks in the east:
BIGGEST WINNER: Isn’t it obvious? Okay, so it’s not quite as large a victory for President Bush as some had hoped–but it’s certainly more impressive than 2000 and even includes the electorally meaningless but symbolically powerful popular vote. It may take a little while longer to count every last ballot, but there won’t be any persuasive allegations of a stolen election. The Left has failed to “Re-Defeat Bush.”
BIGGEST LOSER NOT STANDING FOR ELECTION: Media exit polls. They were wrong. Appallingly wrong. Why will any media company want to pay for them in the future?
MOST PLEASANT SURPRISE: Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle losing his reelection to former GOP congressman John Thune. (I’m assuming–perhaps dangerously–that Daschle won’t find a few bagfuls of uncounted reservation votes.) And Thune’s margin of victory, which currently appears to be in the 7,000-vote range, is much bigger than his loss by a few hundred votes to Tim Johnson two years ago. In fact, it’s probably good that Thune failed in the first Senate bid because victory over Daschle is so much sweeter and Thune is probably the only Republican who could have pulled it off.
SECOND MOST PLEASANT SURPRISE: Republican David Vitter winning Louisiana’s Senate race outright, avoiding a December runoff. The election really is over–everywhere!
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Pete Coors losing his Senate race in Colorado. He and his family have performed enormous services to the conservative movement. (His father, the late Joe Coors, wrote the check that basically created the Heritage Foundation). It would have been very nice to see Coors realize his political goal. The upside for him is that at least he goes back to a pretty good job: running a beer company. There are worse fates. Being a senator is arguably one of them.
BIGGEST COMEBACK: In September, many pundits believed Republican Richard Burr looked like a goner in his North Carolina Senate race against Democrat Erskine Bowles. A month ago, one conservative analyst told me that Burr had run such a poor campaign that he deserved to lose. But Burr stuck to a deliberate plan of hoarding his money over the summer. He surged in October and triumphed in November.
BIGGEST EMBARRASSMENT: Marion Barry winning election to the city council in the District of Columbia. This was a foregone conclusion because he won a contested primary in a one-party ward in September. Still, national Democrats don’t want Barry’s victory discussed in public. So let’s discuss it, shall we?
BIGGEST DEMOCRATIC REGRET: John Kerry came close. Would a different candidate from the Democratic primary field, such as Dick Gephardt, have made it closer? Or won?
DEMOCRATIC WINNERS: Hillary Rodham Clinton has a clear shot at the presidency in 2008. So does John Edwards. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada will be the next Senate Minority Leader. Barack Obama looks like a star.
REPUBLICAN LOSERS: Hmmm. Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, because they’ll remain in the majority but will have to serve beneath Pennsylvania senator Arlen Specter. The apparent defeat of Gov. Craig Benson in New Hampshire is a letdown because he has compiled a strong conservative record. Maybe John McCain, who might have been better positioned for 2008 if Bush had lost.
BIGGEST GOP BUZZKILL: Even though Republicans boosted their Senate majority, they might have made even more progress if they had recruited better candidates in Arkansas (Asa Hutchinson), Nevada (Jim Gibbons), North Dakota (Ed Schafer), and Washington (Jennifer Dunn). We knew this months ago, but it bears repeating.
BIGGEST HEAD FAKE: Hawaii turned out not to be such a nail-biter. Was this a plot by political reporters to get expense-account junkets in return for “Whither Hawaii?” articles? Or was Dick Cheney looking for a two-hour getaway on the weekend before the election?
BIGGEST RED HERRING, BESIDES THE EXIT POLLS: Voter “intimidation.”
MOVEMENT MOMENT: Congressman Phil Crane of Illinois has been a conservative champion for a generation. But he tried to hang on for one term too long and lost to Democratic challenger Melissa Bean.
AESTHETIC COMMENT: The red-blue divide will look cleaner on the map, assuming New Hampshire ultimately goes for Kerry and New Mexico tips for Bush.
CURSES: The Red Sox reversed theirs this year, but Democratic adviser Bob Shrum continues his long losing streak.
GRATUITIOUS FRENCH JOKE, IN HONOR OF THE FRENCH-LOOKING SENATOR: Q: What do French kids say on Halloween? A: Trick or retreat!