Even with races still left to be decided, last Tuesday’s elections are already being considered to be of great historical significance. I agree. Yes, these elections mark the largest gain of House seats for a party in decades and a drastic change in the balance of power in Washington. Yes, they represent the decisive point of the Obama presidency. But there’s more to it: Nov. 2, 2010 told us a tremendous amount about who we are as a people and where our republic is headed.
First, the impact of the Tea Party continues to be the most hotly debated facet of this campaign season. The fact is the Tea Party cost Republicans otherwise easy Senate pickups in Delaware, Colorado and Nevada. That Harry Reid, practically vilified by his constituents, won re-election is testament to the fact that the GOP’s concern in the future is not just in selecting the more conservative candidate, but the better candidate. That said, it is impossible to deny the Tea Party’s centrality in propelling Marco Rubio of Florida and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin to Senate victories. All in all, the movement helped and hurt Republicans but was certainly of net benefit.
Some of the most interesting analysis I’ve read likens these midterm elections to parliamentary elections. On election night, I sat astounded as under-funded, inexperienced and underdog Republicans demolished entrenched Democrat incumbents by the dozen. In many cases, a polished moderate-to-conservative House Democrat lost to a scrappy, untested challenger. It appeared that voters were less focused on candidate quality than they were on removing the Democrats from power. Case in point: voters acted more as if we were voting for the composition of a parliament instead of individual candidates.
What’s more, the GOP has grown more diverse than ever. Tim Scott of South Carolina and Allen West of Florida will become the House’s first two black Republicans from their states in over a century, and the ranks of Hispanic Republican members of Congress will grow to include five representatives and, of course, Senator-elect Marco Rubio of Florida. Not only that, but Governors-elect Susana Martínez of New Mexico and Brian Sandoval of Nevada are powerful leaders for their party in the Hispanic community and in key swing states. Additionally, South Carolina Governor-elect Nikki Haley will join Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal as an Indian-American Republican Governor. Last Tuesday, the Republican Party truly began to look like America.
But Republican diversity is more than skin-deep. With career politicians out of voter favor, the incoming freshman class of House Republicans will have a diversity of life experiences: Renee Ellmers of North Carolina is a nurse, Rick Crawford of Arkansas is a rodeo announcer, Pennsylvania’s Mike Kelly and Virginia’s Scott Rigell are car salesmen, Bobby Schilling of Illinois owns a pizzeria, Chip Cravaack of Minnesota is a pilot for Northwest Airlines, Billy Long of Missouri is an auctioneer, Stephen Fincher of Tennessee is a gospel-singing farmer and Jon Runyan of New Jersey was an offensive lineman for the Philadelphia Eagles. Career public servants are noble in their pursuits, but this new Congress will boldly reaffirm the concept that ours is a citizen legislature.
Already, chatter has started about 2012 and beyond. A number of the newly elected have bright futures ahead of them. No one has received more buzz than Rubio. The 39-year-old Rubio is young, photogenic and Latino, but more importantly he is a brilliant thinker who can make common-sense conservatism appeal to voters across the ideological spectrum, as evidenced by his blowout Senate victory. Not to mention he now represents the most crucial swing state in America. Get ready for Rubio-for-President-craziness starting very, very soon.
Finally, this election featured tremendous courage in the form of Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Committed to running a positive primary campaign, Murkowski was felled by Tea Party-favorite and Sarah Palin-endorsed Joe Miller in the GOP primary. Not content to stand silent for her state, she waged an unlikely and uphill campaign to become only the second-ever U.S. senator elected as a write-in candidate (Strom Thurmond being the first). As I am writing this, the results have yet to be finalized, but all signs point to Murkowski confounding all the “experts” and winning re-election to her seat through the least likely of means. Her tenacity in confronting the zeitgeist of this campaign cycle speaks to her rock-solid commitment to serving all Alaskans.
“America Rejects Obama” or “1994 Redux” are ubiquitous headlines that fail to capture the true complexity of these elections. I am confident that years from now, we can look at our national political trends and trace their origins back to 2010 – the year everything changed.
Sam Dulik is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. He can be reached at sdulikthehoya.com. QUORUM CALL appears every other Friday.