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Not the Big Win It Seems to Be

December 5th, 2008

While Democrats hoped for the Democrat to unseat the rather vile Senator Saxby “Politics Is a Contact Sport” Chambliss in Georgia, we always knew it was a long-shot. Simply the fact that Chambliss was forced into a run-off was rather amazing, considering that the state went for Bush 58% – 42% in 2004, and for McCain 53% – 47% this year. Even powerful turnout for Obama could not win this for Democrat Jim Martin. There was hope for an upset, but it was pretty clear that this was the long-shot for Dems to pick up another seat.

But now, Republicans are basking in the glory of their win, despite it being less of a “win” and more of a meeting of expectations. That there even had to be a run-off in the first place was a big blow for Republicans here–Georgia is a stronghold, and for Democrats to make this kind of a showing is unusual. This should not have been a run-off, it should have been a cake walk in the general election.

But I suppose the Republicans have to run with what they’re got, especially with Al Franken closing in on Norm Coleman in Minnesota–Franken seems to be the favorite there, though it is still far from decided. But after losing Stevens’ seat in Alaska and likely losing Coleman’s in Minnesota, they needed some kind of victory so they could claim the beginnings of a comeback.

In the runoff, Chambliss defeated Martin 57% to 43%–a bit less than what Bush won the state by in ’04. In large part, it was a less close race because black voters were not coming out in as strong numbers for this one. This election, if anything, shows the breadth of Obama’s coattails, giving Martin four extra points and perhaps shaving one or two more off of Chambliss’.

So, why didn’t Obama campaign here? After all, Republicans came out like an all-star line-up, with McCain, Romney, Huckabee, and Palin all stumping for Chambliss. Chambliss even gushed over Palin (he knows the future of the party when he sees it), claiming that she made all the difference. (If that’s so, then the Republicans are in trouble in Georgia, because even with the all-star line-up, they’re still doing worse there than in ’04.) So, where was the president-elect?

Well, he was busy not being stupid. The worst thing for him to do after winning the election as cleanly and as clearly as he did would be for him to go all-out and campaign for someone who was bound to lose. Remember, even with Obama on the ticket, Martin still was 3 points behind Chambliss. The chances for Obama having enough of an effect were virtually nil. No way Obama could have moved 15% of the vote for Martin. And despite the heavy odds against him, a loss would be widely interpreted as a loss of mandate, effectively neutralizing the power he gained by beating McCain so soundly. Obama would be hobbled a month and a half before he could even wield the influence he stood to lose.

Which was also why Republicans flocked to Chambliss: they were pretty sure he would win, and they wanted to be seen as part of that victory.

So now Republicans are doing a victory dance in Georgia, as if winning a Senate seat which should have been safe in a solid-red state is somehow an indication that the GOP is on the rise. It’s all about creating perception, nothing more. They want to put the shellacking they got this November behind them and come away looking like winners.

In the meantime, if Franken wins Minnesota, Obama and the Democrats will still have 59 senators behind them, and will only need to win one or two Republicans to shut down the expected flood of Republican filibusters. That will probably not be a problem.

Meanwhile, a lot of right-wingers are calling for the GOP to turn even further to the right to regain party “purity” (“purity of essence”?), while Sarah Palin–wildly popular with the hardcore right, laughably scary to everyone else–is making the rounds for a future run for something big.

If their aim is to cement the Democratic majority, they’re doing a kick-ass job.

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