Election Night 2008 will long be remembered as a historic event, for the obvious and thrilling reason that Americans elected their first black president. Another obvious fact is that Democrat enjoyed a remarkable set of victories. However, liberal pundits and partisans are succumbing to irrational exuberance by proclaiming the 2008 election cycle as a fundamental realignment of American politics. When you look beyond the presidential race, and in particular into the down-ballot contests, the Democratic surge washed up against political levies of surprising strength.
#ad#Many observers have already noted that, at least of this writing, Democrats appear to have fallen somewhat short of expectations in House and Senate races. Of course, they’ll happily take their gains in both chambers, but predictions of a filibuster-proof Senate majority and 30-plus new seats in the House proved excessive. Similarly, in state races, Democrats had a good year in 2008, but not a great one. In governorships, the only partisan switch was in Missouri, where Democratic attorney general Jay Nixon easily defeated Republican representative Kenny Hulshof. (The incumbent governor, Republican Matt Blunt, had stepped down after one stormy term.) Strong Republican challengers in Washington State and North Carolina found themselves overwhelmed by the Obama tide in both states. That leaves the national standings at 29 Democratic and 21 Republican governors.
With a couple of state legislative chambers still too close to call, it looks like Democrats will have wrested five chambers out of GOP control: the Delaware house, the Nevada senate, the New York senate, the Ohio house, and the Wisconsin assembly. Another chamber, the Alaska senate, went from a two-seat Republican edge to a tie. For their part, Republicans have gained four chambers — the Tennessee house and Montana senate, taken from the Dems, and the senates in Tennessee and Oklahoma, moved off of ties.
Going into Tuesday night, Democrats controlled 57 legislative chambers around the country, while Republicans controlled 39 chambers and two were tied (Nebraska’s legislature is nonpartisan and unicameral). Right now, it looks like there will be 60 Democratic chambers, 37 Republican ones, and one tie.
Conservatives saw mixed results in statewide voting on ballot initiatives. All three state bans on same-sex marriage passed, in Arizona, California, and Florida. All three abortion restrictions failed, in California, Colorado, and South Dakota. Nebraska’s ban on racial preferences passed, but Colorado’s fell just short. Michigan legalized medical marijuana and lifted its ban on embryonic-stem-cell research. Washington approved doctor-assisted suicide. On fiscal issues, tax-hiking referenda failed in Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, and North Carolina, and Maine voters repealed taxes on beverages and insurance. Colorado also declined to weaken its spending-limitation measure, the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR). On the other hand, Minnesotans approved a new sales tax for natural resources and arts programs and Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly rejected an income-tax repeal.
Again, there is no denying that last night went well for Democrats. But this is a symptom of American politics’ waxing and waning, not a demonstration that the country has permanently altered its political outlook.
– John Hood is chairman and president of the John Locke Foundation