Democrats have emphatically ended 12 years of Republican rule in Congress. On November 7, they picked up at least 28 seats in the House of Representatives. (As the Observer went to press, 13 additional races, some leaning Democrat, were still too close to call.) In the Senate, Democrats gained six seats and control of the upper chamber.
And in Texas, while Republicans once again swept all statewide offices, a majority of voters made it clear they’d prefer someone other than Rick Perry as governor. In the Statehouse, Democrats picked up as many as five seats, a solid start to a future takeover.
The Observer will provide more coverage of the consequences from the election in its next issue, but if there was one immediate message that voters seemed to be sending on Election Day, it was that anger had finally triumphed over fear.
President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney barnstormed the country promising every calamity but frogs and locusts if Democrats took the reins of power. “If the Democrats take control, American families would face an immense tax increase, and the economy would sustain a major hit,” Cheney predicted in Wyoming four days before the vote. (The election results sent the Dow Jones Industrial Average to a new high. Go figure.) Singling out Democratic resistance to legislation that bestows on the president extraordinary new power—unchecked by the courts or Congress—such as the Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Act, Bush said in Iowa, “…the vast majority of Democrats voted against giving the professionals the tools necessary to protect you.”
Fear has been a potent GOP weapon in Texas as well, with House Speaker Tom Craddick using the party’s intimidating financial superiority as a cudgel to enforce legislative majorities and to win elections. Legislators knew that if they didn’t follow the speaker, Republican sugar daddies Bob Perry, Jim Leininger, and Texans for Lawsuit Reform might not support them, or worse, use their nearly unlimited funds to back an opponent. But this cycle, with anger boiling over against the radical policies of the Republican right and the emergence of organized opposition like the Texas Parent PAC, the money didn’t seem to matter as much. In the 34 contested House races, Republicans outspent Democrats by $4 million, but not one Democratic incumbent lost, and the GOP failed to win a single seat.
The sugar daddies tried to bully their way through Republican primaries and buy their way into Democratic strongholds to no avail. In two of the more notable examples, Leininger favorite Kent Grusendorf went down to an anti-voucher Republican in the primary. In San Antonio, Leininger dropped $1 million on behalf of George Antuna. Democrat Joe Farias managed to win even though he had only about $300,000 with which to compete. Democrats eked out victories against well-financed opponents in districts in Corpus Christi, East Texas, and West Texas that normally would have gone Republican.
Nationally this election means real oversight of the Bush administration for the first time. In Texas, perhaps most significantly, it has left behind a much weaker Speaker Craddick—perhaps fatally so—and a state Senate that nobody—least of all David Dewhurst—will be able to control.
But before Democrats get carried away in their euphoria, they would do well to understand the limits of anger. It provides the adrenaline to get off the couch, but it’s not a plan or a strategy. They need look no further than Perry’s re-election to be reminded of this. Instead of being smart and coordinating, the opposition splintered the vote and guaranteed the re-election of an unpopular incumbent.