Feature

Democrats gain in Congress

Powered by Barack Obama’s victory, Democrats this week swept up House and Senate seats across the nation.

Powered by Barack Obama’s victory, Democrats this week swept up House and Senate seats across the nation. Democrats gained at least five Senate seats, but fell short of the 60 needed for a filibuster-proof majority. In North Carolina, Kay Hagan, an unheralded Democratic state senator, defeated stalwart Sen. Elizabeth Dole, while New Hampshire voters tossed out Republican Sen. John Sununu in favor of former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen. In Minnesota, Al Franken lost to Republican Sen. Norm Coleman by fewer than 1,000 votes, triggering a recount. Alaska apparently re-elected Ted Stevens, but he may be forced to step down over his recent conviction on corruption charges.

In House races, Democrats gained about 20 seats, giving the party its biggest majority since 1993. Several moderate Republicans lost their seats, including Chris Shays of Connecticut, the last remaining GOP congressman from New England. But Republicans, who were braced for even bigger losses, took some comfort in the results. “Our worst days are behind us,” said Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma.

In their “euphoria and triumphalism,” Democrats will be tempted to “overreach,” said Naftali Bendavid in the Chicago Tribune. But the party’s victory is an expression of disgust with George Bush, not a mandate for a sweeping liberal agenda. This remains a centrist nation. If Democrats push too hard for universal heath care or far-reaching new regulations, they could pay for it in 2010—just as the Republicans did after trying to privatize Social Security.

Now is no time for timidity, said John Judis in The New Republic. Washington insiders calling for Democrats “to go slow” don’t understand the kind of change that Americans are demanding. Just as the New Deal ended the Depression and built a framework for a generation of Democratic rule, a bold agenda in the face of the current financial crisis will be good for the country and “lay the basis for an enduring majority.”

The bulked-up Democratic majority in the Senate may not want a liberal agenda, said James Carney in Time.com. Many incoming members are moderates from previously red states who “aren’t likely to march leftward in lockstep.” It’s more likely that Senate Democrats will serve as a check on President Obama, forcing him to steer toward the center, whether he wants to or not. 

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