by Joyce Marcel
November 4, 2010
BRADENTON, Fla., Nov. 3, 2010 (UPDATED Nov, 5, 2010, 12:30 A.M. ET) -- An irresistible combination of anonymous and sometimes foreign money, the rage of Republican seniors, Democratic voters' fears and apathy, and the unpredictable arrival of an infantile but influential new faction of the GOP called the Tea Party swept away the last vestiges of President Barack Obama's hope and change agenda last night, handing control of the House of Representatives to Republican conservatives and leaving the once-strong 10-seat Democratic majority in the United States Senate hanging by one uncertain vote. [Update: The final U.S. Senate results from CNN show Republicans witrh 47 seats and Democrats with 52. The final CNN results for the House of Representatives shows 186 Democratic seats and 239 Republican seats. The CNN site did not distinguish between Independents and the major parties.]
By 6:30 A.M ET, it appeared the House would have a new Speaker with a strong Republican edge, 242-193, while if trends held the Senate would remain barely Democratic, with 49 Democrats, two independents and 46 Republicans - a six-seat gain for the GOP.
A U.S. Senate race Colorado, another in Washington State between incumbent Sen. Patty Murray and two-time GOP Senate nominee Dino Rossi, and a Senate write-in fight in Alaska remained too close to call, with Sen. Lisa Murkowski leading by as much as 13,000 votes at 9:30 A.M. ET. Also at 9:30 A.M., the Washington Secretary of State had Murray ahead by 14,005 votes.
The Colorado race, where under state law the narrow margin appeared certain to trigger a mandatory recount, incumbent Senator Mike Bennett, an appointee who replaced Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, was nleading by about 7,000 votes at 9:30 A.M. Meanwhile, 85 percent of Denver voters rejected Initiative 300, a measure that would have required the city to create a special commission on extraterrestrial affairs.
Ironically, opposition to the Obama Administration's signature health care reform bill - hated by Republican seniors who feared losing Medicare coverage - apparently contributed significantly to the defeat of Democratic incumbents who voted against it. While they did so in majority conservative districts that had turned Democratic in 2008, the dissident Democrats were also seen as people who would not stand up for their party and the President.
In Arkansas, U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, who came under ferocious pressure from conservatives to reject the health-care reform bill and ultimately voted no on a second iteration of the measure, was defeated by Republican John Boozman. As many as 27 of 34 House Democrats who opposed the health reform bill were facing likely defeat Tuesday night, according to The Hill, a normally reliable insider publication.
In Florida, Tea Party-supported Republican Marco Rubio won handily over Rep. Kendrick Meek and Gov. Charlie Crist after the two were unable to combine forces at the urging of former President Bill Clinton in the closing weeks of the campaign. The effort to do so may have angered Florida Republican voters, who defeated them both by a larger margin than their combined vote totals.
Meanwhile, Wednesday morning cable talk quickly focused on the possibility of a Rubio vice-presidential run. If Rubio won a White House race, It would mark the third time Florida's U.S. Senators have left office ahead of schedule in the past four years.
Florida voters on the more liberal southern East Coast also abruptly retired the fiery Rep. Alan Grayson, whose statements on the House floor and flawed television ads may have doomed his campaign for a second term.
Voters chose not to punish a U.S. Senate candidate, Kentucky's Rep. Rand Paul, for a local Tea Party leader who famously stepped on a liberal female protestor's head, and also spared the Democratic majority leader of the United States Senate, Harry Reid, whom many Nevadans blamed for the state's 14.5 percent unemployment rate, the highest in the nation.
Yet voters demolished a Tea Party upstart, Carl Paladino, running against Andrew Cuomo, the heir of a family political dynasty in New York, and coldly rejected a trio of Tea Party firebrands, Joe Miller in Alaska, Linda McMahon in Connecticut and Christine O'Donnell in Delaware.
One of the Senate's most liberal members, Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, found himself out of a job Tuesday night, while one of its most conservative - Sen. John mcCain, the target of Tea Party attacks during the primary - won handily in Arizona.
The Washington Post, however, reported Monday that the GOP was anxious to punish giant retailer Wal-Mart for its support of health-care reform and a higher minimum wage over the first two years of the Obama Administration. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which also opposed those measures, took in hundreds of millions of dollars from American and foreign donors who preferred to remain anonymous, and the impact of that uncontrolled money was felt throughout the nation in campaigns this fall.
It remains to be seen what influence Chinese and other governments whose manufacturers and retailers compete with Wal-Mart had contributed to the tide of change, and unclear whether they could ever be held to account under laws that prohibit the use of foreign money in federal campaigns. In 1996, Chinese contributions of $300,000 to President Bill Clinton's campaign were later linked to the Politburo and the Chinese military, who would be shielded from exposure under a recent Supreme Court decision allowing unlimited anonymous contributions to independent campaigns on behalf of selected candidates. On Wednesday, Chinese leaders cheered the U.S. election results, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which received $61 million in donations in 2010 from foreign parent companies of U.S. subsidiaries, accepted funds from foreign corporations and elected not to segregate them by source but to place all of them in its general acount, from which payments to independently-run campaigns cannot be traced back to donors.
While some races remain unresolved - at 3:35 A.M. ET, just 406 votes separated the Tea Party's Ken Buck and incumbent Senator Michael Bennett in Colorado, virtually guaranteeing a required recount - it was clear that a catastrophic blood-red tide of change had swept away the comfortable Democratic majority in the House and installed an unassailable GOP edge there that will replace Obama Administration stalwart Nancy Pelosi with the hard-edged House minority leader John Boehner as Speaker of the House.
California's highly independent electorate rejected the self-financed $140 million gubernatorial campaign of former eBay chairwoman Meg Whitman for its former "Governor Moonbeam," state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, yet despite a $1-million cash infusion by billionaire George Soros, rebuffed an effort to legalize possession of one ounce of marijuana, a measure strongly opposed by the Mexican government. Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina also lost another self-financed campaign to longtime incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer.
In Alaska, the volatile tides of political change appeared to have awarded another family dynasty a write-in ballot victor. Republican incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who lost a hard-fought, nasty GOP primary fight to Tea Party lawyer Joe Miller, has apparently overcome the hurdle of spelling her name correctly by hand amid a sea of 160 candidates on the write-in ballot. In late results, Sen. Murkoswski led by about 9,000 votes.
Miller, who briefly ignited a major surge of Tea Party support but lost momentum after reports arose of a hit-or-miss personal resume, had not yet conceded Wednesday morning but was trailing Murkoswski badly in the slow write-in count. A later report made a plea for supporters to donate to a legal effort to undo the write-in ballot count. No write-in candidate for U.S. Senator has won in Alaska since 1954.
Rep. Joe Sestak, a Pennsylvania Democrat who had beaten incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter in a bitter senatorial primary that revolved around Sestak's opposition to health care reform, lost a razor-thin result to a former Republican congressman, Pat Toomey. In West Virginia, Gov. Joe Manchin won election to the Senate seat held for most of five decades by the late U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, narrowly defeating John Raese, a conservative Republican with strong Tea Party support.
Yet there was painful and critical damage to Democratic hopes for a re-election victory of President Obama in 2012. Two key states, Ohio and Florida, both appeared ready to reject Democratic gubernatorial candidates, albeit by narrow margins.
Inexplicably, Florida's modernized voting systems failed to yield a victory at this hour to either Republican billionaire Rick Scott, the founder of a health care chain that was fined $1.7 billion for Medicare and Medicaid fraud, or Democratic state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, a former Bank of America regional president who is descended from the famous Siamese twins Chang and Eng.
According to the Associated Press, more than 500,000 ballots had not yet been counted in that race at 4:40 A.M., and neither side had declared victory. At 9 A.M. ET, with 99 percent of preincts inthe state reporting, Scott maintained a lead of 68,277 votes, but Sink had not conceded. Sink made a concessionary speech late Wednesday morning when final tallies shiowed her 52,000 votes behind Scott.
In Ohio, where the margin of victory was small, it was nonetheless conclusive. Gov. Ted Strickland, whom Democrats counted upon to keep the pivotal state in the Democratic electoral vote column in 2012, was upended by Sen. John Kasich by a small margin.
Florida had three bellwether constitutional amendments. The amendments required a 60 percent Yes vote for adoption. As most observers predicted, the anti-development Amendment 4 that would have put all changes to county comprehensive land plans before the voters suffered a loss in the Republican onslaught. Amendment 4 got just 32.91 percent of the vote.
Surprisingly, though, Amendments 5 and 6, requiring the appointment of an impartial commission to redraw political districts after each census along new lines that may not be designed to protect incumbents, could endanger many of them.
Without winning the U.S. Senate, however, it appears unlikely Republicans can accomplish the major goal for which voters apparently restored them to power, first to undo health-care reform, and then to revisit new Wall Street regulations and basic reforms enacted a few months ago.