SAN DIEGO - If only the country could be more like California.
Not only do we have great weather, gorgeous beaches, and fulsome vineyards, but we also have a Republican governor, several other statewide elected Republicans, and numerous successful conservative ballot measures. We even defended most of our House seats from the Democratic onslaught.
Here in San Diego, we actually managed to oust some elected Democrats, along with passing a citywide union-busting proposition allowing for competitive bidding for municipal services.
So much for the good news.
As of this writing, Republicans nationwide have lost control of the House (a 26-seat turnover) and, most likely, the Senate (pending a recount in Virginia—and any legal disputes handled by TCS's own Ilya Shapiro). For the first time in 12 years, Congressional Democrats will have the upper hand.
Of course, some of the Senate losses, when examined individually, are far from grave. Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee truly embodied the epithet "RINO" - Republican In Name Only. He couldn't even bring himself to support his party's standard-bearer in the 2004 race and was rumored to be mulling a party change.
Mike DeWine of Ohio lacked charisma and was widely viewed as a less-than-effective leader. And Conrad Burns was never known for his legislative prowess.
Also not to be underestimated is the victory of Sen. Joseph Lieberman over liberal challenger Ned Lamont. While Lieberman, who won election as an independent, will likely caucus with the Democrats, his relationships with his party (and with the Clintons, who sided with Lamont) have frayed badly.
What's more, Lieberman largely ignored the advice of many liberals to downplay his support for the Iraq War. Still, don't hold your breath waiting for the media to tout Lieberman's win as a sign that voters rejected the shrill antiwar position of the MoveOn.org Left.
On the other hand, Sen. Rick Santorum veritably draped himself in the War on Terror. His defeat to a lackluster fellow like Bob Casey, Jr. augurs ill for the war's continued prosecution. The losses of Jim Talent in Missouri and Michael Steele in Maryland were bad setbacks for two GOP rising stars.
Before Tuesday, confident Republicans and associated commentators praised the Republicans' get-out-the-vote (GOTV) operation as the antidote to anti-Bush sentiment. The polls even appeared to be narrowing ahead of the election.
And indeed, the much-vaunted GOTV effort indeed proved impressive. According to one Republican official I spoke to, GOP volunteers nationwide placed over 27 million phone calls to registered voters over the final weekend of the campaign.
Much of this strategy focused on "microtargeting": obtaining detailed information on registered voters and contacting them—often multiple times—to focus on specific issues of relevance to them. This political data-mining enabled campaign volunteers to reach like-minded voters in obscure places.
But in the end, it wasn't enough to withstand nationwide unease with Republican governance.
I spoke with another Republican official who shared his insights. In his mind, the strategic mistake Republicans made was "to marry 'comprehensive immigration reform' to border security." This served to demoralize the conservative base just as it energized liberals.
Scandals didn't help either. The official told me that "unfortunately, some of our folks like Bob Ney, Duke Cunningham, and Mark Foley simply handed the Democrats issues they never deserved to get." Like the immigration issue, these various scandals embarrassed conservative supporters while motivating Democrats.
Lest we underestimate the importance of last night's developments, my source confided that "this is only the beginning. Congressional leadership positions will be reshuffled, committee staffers will come and go, trade associations will shift their emphases, and K Street will adjust its focus. In other words, the Democrats will enjoy all of the institutional advantages we'd been enjoying until tonight."
The official was optimistic, though. After all, most of the newly-elected Democrats were moderately conservative folks like North Carolina's Heath Shuler—adroitly recruited by Rep. Rahm Emanuel's DCCC. To the extent any broad themes can be discerned in the results, they can't really be said to include a repudiation of conservative ideas.
Still, in the end, any analysis requires a proper perspective. When viewed against the expectations of a week or a month ago, last night's results were a measured success for Republicans.
But when considered in light of the GOP's high hopes of one year ago—including plans to capture vulnerable Democratic Senate seats in Minnesota, Nebraska, and Florida—the '06 election must surely be viewed as a disappointment.
Yet pulling back even further, compared to a ruling party's typical electoral performance during a president's sixth year in office, last night's tally was just about right—the loss of 30 House seats and 5-6 Senate seats.
There's much more to be said and there will be even more to do. But for now, let's just say I'm proud to be a Republican—one who lives in California, not Washington.
Michael M. Rosen, TCS Daily's Intellectual Property columnist, is an attorney in San Diego.