Iraq spurs big day for Democrats

How well did the Democrats fare on Election Day?

“It was a terrific night for the Democrats—probably not as [good] as some were hoping. It was about as good an evening as they could have reasonably expected,” says Don Kettl, political science professor and director of the Fels Center of Government.

For the first time in 12 years, Democrats gained control over the House of Representatives and hold a majority in the Senate. The reason Democrats won big can be summed up in a word, says Rogers Smith, the Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Political Science: Iraq.
“There’s no question that the overriding issue was the conduct of the Iraq war and that even many who supported the war were unhappy with the conduct of it,” Smith says.

The race in Missouri—where Democrat Clare McCaskill defeated Republican incumbent Jim Talent—surprised Smith, especially since Missouri has a reputation as a socially conservative state that is not particularly anti-war. “I think that does suggest nationally,” Smith says, “how deep the concerns about Iraq are and dissatisfaction with the perception of Republican corruption.”

But it would be wrong to call the Democratic win a mandate, cautions Smith. Despite Missouri voters’ approval of a measure backing stem cell research, Arizona’s rejection of a gay marriage ban and South Dakota’s rejection of a sweeping abortion ban, voters in seven states approved gay marriage bans. “It isn’t true that there was a movement across the board against Bush’s position on social issues,” Smith says.

Kettl points out that Democrats would have liked to have fared better in the three suburban Philadelphia districts. Despite easily picking off incumbent Rep. Curt Weldon, Democrat Lois Murphy lost a tight race to Republican incumbent Jim Gerlach. Pennsylvania, says Kettl, is still in play for both parties.

Now, the question becomes how well President Bush will work with the new House and Senate—and what he can accomplish over the next two years with Democrats now in control.

“Both sides will be saying initially they will seek to work together constructively,” says Smith. “Neither side has ideas on how to do that, much less the same ideas.”

Originally published on November 16, 2006.

Originally published on November 16, 2006