This is a two-fer. Congressman Ted Strickland had consistently won in a red district, and was now looking to run for Governor. Yes, Ken Blackwell (R) had major issues with the voters stemming from what he did to disenfranchise voters in 2004 as Secretary of State, and outgoing Governor Bob Taft (R) was insanely corrupt. But Blackwell didn't just lose. He was CRUSHED by Strickland, who got over 60% of the vote in a key swing state.
But fine, you say, Blackwell was hated. OK, how about Sen. Mike DeWine (R)? He was not tainted with any of the corruption that was hovering over other Ohio Republicans. Sherrod Brown (D) was one of the most progressive members of the House, and was the leader in the Democratic effort to block CAFTA. (That was the infamous vote that passed 217-215 when the GOP-controlled House deliberately kept voting open well past the 15-minute alloted time, and got Robin Hayes (R-NC) to swich votes at the last minute, and then shut down voting.) Again, the theme of fighting for the working class appears here.
Even the bloggers didn't realize this message. In an infamous posting, Markos Moulitsas, founder of DailyKos, railed against the Democrats when hearing of a memo that said Democrats wanted to run on the economy instead of Iraq. It turned out to be a bit misleading. Certain campaigns were, like Sherrod Brown's. I gotta toot my own horn here, I called it back then when the blogs were freaking out over the memo on the economic issues. So, was Brown hurt by focusing on an economic populist message? Hah! He cruised to a 12-point victory over DeWine, 56%-44%.
Bernie Sanders is so far left, he's a socialist. But fine, you say, it's Vermont. Ah, but he was still able to win the conservative (and very anti-gay) "Northeast Kingdom" in Vermont by hefty margins too as a pro-gay rights candidate. And when Jim Jeffords (a Republican-turned-Independent) retired, Sanders upgraded to the Senate. How did he do in his Senate race against "Richie Rich" Tarrant (R), a corporate Republican if there ever was one? He got over 65% of the vote, winning a majority in every single county in the entire state. Even the Republican areas voted for Sanders over the corporate shill.
Most of us remember this race for the infamous "macaca" moment from George Allen (the shame of UCLA, even if he only was here for his freshman year). Or about how Jim Webb (who attended USC before going into the Navy and then Vietnam) was Reagan's Secretary of the Navy who had only recently left the Republican Party and become a Democrat. Much was made of Jim Webb's strong military credentials, and how his son was serving in Iraq. But if you watch the videos from his stump speeches, day in and day out, the war was actually secondary to his main theme: economic populism. He highlighted over and over the disparity in worker pay as compared to CEO pay, railing against corporations that were destroying the very fabric of our country. And when he finally ended George Allen's political career, look at what he wrote in the conservative op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal the following week. It's titled Class Struggle, and it holds back nothing in slamming corporations for their misdeeds and greed. Or how about his response to Bush's 2007 State of the Union address? Don't remember it? Yeah, his speech fell down the memory hole. You should have seen the looks on the CNN anchors' faces after he finished, it was like he had exposed their entire corporate organization for what it was. And BTW, since Republican pundits keep saying the 2006 elections were a "victory" for conservatives by touting Webb's win (as if Allen wasn't???), keep in mind Webb opposed the gay marriage ban ballot measure that PASSED by a sizable margin in Virginia last November.
Organic farmer Jon Tester lived paycheck to paycheck his whole life. He is an unabashed economic populist with a libertarian streak. His campaign was similar to that of Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer (D), whose winning 2004 campaign David Sirota worked on as a consultant.
Talk to Democrats from the state, and they'll tell you that infamous ad of "Harold, call me!" was just one of several factors in Harold Ford's defeat. That ad alone did not cause Ford's defeat. Now head of the DLC, Ford did everything Sirota warned against in his campaign, playing up the "corporate Dem" factor to the max. And so we now have Senator Bob Corker (R).
This carried true in the House too. Keep in mind all these districts were Democratic pick-ups that had been voting for Republicans for quite some time. Read this piece by fellow Bruin Dem Ezra Klein on the "conservative win" myth. Specifically, Heath Shuler (D-NC), who may be conservative on social issues, actively opposes NAFTA and is, whaddaya know, an economic populist! Jason Altmire (D-PA), another surprise win, campaigned on what you could call "health care populism", specifically railing against the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, and also opposing the free trade agreements NAFTA and CAFTA. Steve Kagen (D-WI), a noted allergist, ran on a platform of providing affordable health care to all Americans, calling it "No Patient Left Behind", and has refused to participate in the Congressional health care plan until all Americans have affordable health care. Tim Walz (D-MN) was a graduate of Camp Wellstone, a training program geared towards pushing a progressive agenda, named after the late Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone, who was about as progressive as you could get. John Yarmuth (D-KY) used to publish an alternative weekly in Louisville. Interestingly enough, he co-founded the paper with then-Louisville basketball coach Denny Crum, who of course you should all know played at UCLA for John Wooden.
As Mike Lux wrote:
The campaigns that tended to win last year were the aggressive, populist outsider campaigns. Sherrod Brown, Jon Tester, and Jim Webb each upset their opponents by running those kinds of campaigns, while Harold Ford played defense and lost. In Pennsylvania, establishment defender Lois Murphy lost while aggressor Patrick Murphy won. In Kentucky, establishment defender Ken Lucas lost while populist aggressor John Yarmuth won.
Also in Connecticut, of the three Democrats challenging GOP incumbents, the one who didn't want to be associated with Ned Lamont, CT-04's Diane Farrell, lost her race to incumbent Chris Shays, while the other two Dems knocked off the incumbent. As Tim Tagaris wrote:
I didn't lose a wink of sleep over her loss. She spent more time figuring out ways to get Ned Lamont literature out of canvass bags than she did trying to pull her voters.
Time and time again, we saw the message of populism triumph last November, and those "establishment" candidates trying to take over Republican seats fared much more poorly. The House candidate then-DCCC chair Rahm Emanuel poured the most money into was Illinois' Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq War vet who lost both her legs. You would think that would've been an incredibly powerful message, even in a Republican district. But her campaign was pretty much all about Iraq. Pete Roskam ran a standard Republican campaign, and won.
So what does this mean for 2008? That will be answered in part 3.