Elections, not polls, tell the way political tides are flowing. Two recent elections show that although the American military surge in Iraq may be alive and well, that the Democrat political surge of 2006 has spent itself.
In Massachusetts, probably the most liberal Democrat state in the nation, the widow of former popular Senator Paul Tsongas, Niki Tsongas, ran for a seat in the House of Representatives made vacant by the retirement of Congressman Martin Meehan. The Fifth Congressional District of Massachusetts was so safe that in 2006 Meehan ran unopposed by a Republican and won by an overwhelming landslide, as he had for many previous elections.
Just to be safe, Niki Tsongas had Democrat big names from all over the country campaign for her. She was opposed by an unknown Republican, Jim Ogonowski. Tsongas outspent him three to one. This should have been an absolute slam dunk for Democrats. It was not. Ogonowski, with no money, no name recognition, and no party support came within five percentage points of winning the race. Ogonowski gained a higher percentage of the popular vote than any Republican running in any congressional district in Massachusetts in the last ten years.
What accounted for this? Certainly it was not negatives about the Democrat candidate. Niki Tsongas, the widow of Paul Tsongas, surely gained a few percentage votes as sympathy votes - perhaps any other Democrat would have lost. And this was not "backlash" against Congress. Niki was not a member of Congress, but was running for an open seat held by a retiring member of Congress. The money and the political muscle were all on her side as well. And this was Massachusetts, which has no Republicans in either house of Congress and practically no Republicans in the state legislature.
One election is not a trend. It may simply be an anomaly. But two elections looks more like a real trend. And since the Massachusetts Fifth Congressional District election, Louisiana held a general election. Bobby Jindal, a very conservative pro-life Republican, won that election outright, easily getting more votes than all the other candidates of all the other political parties combined. That is a big victory.
But that was not the only race in Louisiana. Republicans won a bunch of secondary statewide elective offices as well. The next Secretary of State, the next State Insurance Commissioner and the next State Agriculture Commissioner in Louisiana will be Republicans. The State Attorney General race ended without a winner, so in the runoff the next Attorney General of Louisiana could also be a Republican, flipping that office.
Republicans also gained seats in both houses of the Louisiana State Legislature. In the runoff, with a bit of a backwind, Republicans could actually gain a majority in the Louisiana House of Representatives (a body that a few decades ago did not have a single Republican member.) In short, Republicans nearly swept the tables in Louisiana and now - for the first time since Reconstruction - have most of the political power in that state.
But watch what happens in November. The rest of the Louisiana runoff results will be in then. More importantly, Republicans will have the chance to make gains in the state governments of Mississippi and Kentucky, both of which will be electing governors, secondary statewide election offices, and state legislative seats. The Kentucky governorship is probably lost because of problems with the Republican governor, but watch what happens in all the other races.
If Republicans pick up seats in the Mississippi and Kentucky state legislatures, if Republicans gain statewide elective offices below the governor, then it is safe to say that we have a trend, and that this trend is toward Republicans. One special election might be a fluke, a general election in another state on top of that may also just be an even political climate, but if Republicans make progress in four different states then that indicates - whatever polls may say - a mild wind at the back of Republicans.
What does that mean for 2008? It means that with most congressional districts in Congress drawn to elect Republicans, that Republicans will be gaining seats in the House, maybe enough seats to swing control to Republicans. It means that Republican losses in the Senate, which are almost inevitable given this particular Senate class, may be held to a couple of seats. It means that state legislative districts drawn to elect Republicans will mean significant gains across the nation. It means that an energized Republican Party united behind a strong candidate could easily defeat Hillary. It means that Republicans could be the national majority party again in just about a year.