It's clear that Democrats will make significant gains today, even before votes counted. Against the forbidding advantages of incumbency, money, machinery, mobilization and the presidential bully pulpit, the minority party will gain seats in both houses of Congress.
It's worth being clear on what happened. The president succeeded in the Karl Rove strategy of nationalizing the elections around terror and taxes. Only the war on terror focused on the fiasco in Iraq. And the public -- in blue states and red -- voted for a change in course.
Democrats began the cycle trying to figure out how to look tough. They started sounding like Hillary calling for more troops in Iraq, with the DCCC recruiting veterans of the war to run. They ended sounding like Ned Lamont, with the DCCC running ads tying Republican candidates to Bush on Iraq. In this remarkable transformation, Ned Lamont's challenge to Joe Lieberman was critical -- for it taught Democrats early the scope of the anti-war sentiment in their own party.
Similarly, across the country, Republicans ran ads warning voters that Democrats would raise taxes -- a more than plausible threat. But voters clearly worried more about an economy that wasn't working for them -- and a Congress that seemed in the pocket of big oil and big drug companies. Democrats responded not by promising to lower taxes, but by pledging to take on the oil and drug lobbies. In red states and blue, Democrats -- whether socially liberal or socially conservative -- ran remarkably populist campaigns.
Democrats will come to Washington in greater numbers with a clear mandate to challenge the failed policies in Iraq and to take on the entrenched corporate lobbies in Washington. The test will be whether they have the fortitude to do either.
One last note. Look at Bush's rhetoric over the last weeks of the campaign. "If Democrats win, the terrorists will win." He's essentially accusing Democrats of treason in the face off against bin Laden. This libel is characteristic of Rove and Bush, but well beyond the bounds of hard ball politics. After the election, the White House will start prating about bipartisan cooperation again. Democrats should be happy to gain bipartisan support for their agenda -- but they should not forget the slur, nor hesitate to investigate the lies, the plunder, and the folly that went into creating the worst foreign policy fiasco in American history in Iraq.