Hours after the polls closed, the nation still didn’t know who would become Pennsylvania’s junior senator, as Republican Pat Toomey and Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak were locked in a back-and-forth duel, a race too close to call.
Finally victorious, Toomey thanked his supporters, of course, but he should have also thanked those most responsible for his success: Philadelphia Democrats.
It was the relatively light turnout in the city that killed Sestak’s candidacy. Based on the 77,000 vote statewide margin — out of 3.9 million cast — if just one of ten more Philadelphians voted, Sestak’s election would have been a lay-up.
Ironically, the One Party town of Philadelphia, with virtually no competitive races, led to the demise of the Democratic senate seat. As a matter of fact, the only race that was close involved incumbent Republican State Representative John Perzel, saddled with an 82-count indictment.
That said, there’s a lesson to be learned for Pat Toomey and all Republicans running statewide, including Presidential candidates: make major inroads in Philadelphia immediately, or suffer the consequences. The Democratic vote in the city always jumps in Presidential election years, as it will in 2012, and 2016 — when Toomey faces the voters again.
Now that the Election Day white noise has subsided, let’s look at the true picture that has emerged from last week’s historic vote.
The Republicans made huge gains all around, especially in Pennsylvania, arguably the epicenter of electoral activity.
Attorney General Tom Corbett trounced Rendell-protégé Dan Onorato by a 10-point margin, the seat held by Arlen Specter was flipped by Toomey’s win, and five congressional seats fell into GOP hands. And the state senate — up until Election Day the ONLY elected Republican body from the Mid-Atlantic north and east of Ohio — is now joined by a GOP dominated statehouse, with Republicans picking up an almost-unfathomable 15 seats to enjoy a 12-seat majority.
So is the Keystone state "red" again, like in 1994, when Republicans controlled the governorship, both U.S. senate seats, all row offices, and had majorities in the state house, senate and congressional delegations?
Not so fast.
Things didn’t work out back then because too many Republicans chose power for the sake of power, and abandoned the platform on which they were elected. Likewise, if the current GOP winners don’t follow through on their campaign promises, they do so at their own peril.
Republicans have usually been an effective minority opposition party; it’s the governing part where they have had problems. They must avoid taking the position of Robert Redford in The Candidate, when, after he wins his election, famously asks, "What do we do now?"
The GOP would be wise to understand that the election was NOT a mandate for Republicans, as much as it was a protest…a shot across the bow of both parties.
Voters have grown increasingly irritated with the Business As Usual approach in Washington and Harrisburg and are demanding their elected officials focus on what the people want, not what some leaders think they need.
The best example of arrogant leadership was when Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Obama ram-rodded national healthcare legislation through to fruition. While the need for reforming healthcare is universally recognized, it was fourth or fifth on most people’s lists. After Scott Brown’s victory for Ted Kennedy’s seat, the message was clear: jobs, jobs, jobs.
Despite that, universal healthcare was given priority over the economy. Give Pelosi and Reid credit: they got the job done against the odds, but with SEVERE consequences.
The Republicans would do well to heed that lesson.
The message is clear. The GOP cannot just be Party of No. Instead, voters are insisting that they work with Obama and the Democrats, creating solutions to float the sinking economy.
The Catholic vote is a prime example, as it abandoned the Democrats in massive numbers. Just two years ago, Obama (despite his avidly pro-abortion stance) won Catholics 54-44, but this time they voted for the GOP in droves. Some observers estimate that the swing was 34 points.
Voters want the focus to be on the economy. If Republicans don’t make strides in this regard, their gains will be in jeopardy over the next several years. And they can’t make progress unless they are honestly willing to work with their counterparts.
Where do they agree? For starters, offshore drilling, nuclear power, certain tax cuts, and more teacher accountability. The President made these items part of his agenda this year, only to be met with disdain from the current congressional Republicans, who made no attempt to cooperate on these issues.
So here’s the $64,000 question: will the incoming Republicans give serious effort to getting America back on track, knowing that any achievements will help Obama’s reelection, or will they play partisan politics, trying to turn every word the President utters and every action of the Democratic senate into a campaign sound-bite in two years?
The latter choice is more enticing, since it’s far easier to play politics inside the Beltway than actually make tough governing decisions, but it is a slippery slope.
Regardless which path the GOP chooses, it will most certainly make more gains in 2012 based on simple math. The Democrats must defend 22 seats to the Republicans’ nine, with only four needed to control the senate.
But what then?
Obama will most likely be re-elected, made possible, ironically, by the Republicans gains. It is very difficult to defeat an incumbent President, only accomplished four times over the last 150 years. In fact, an incumbent has to work very hard to have the voters reject him. Give them credit — Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush did just that.
Therefore, the Parties will once again be forced to work together — done so effectively when Bill Clinton and the GOP got down to the business of governing — or they will deliberately stand opposed to gain miniscule partisan advantage, all while solving nothing.
If a ship changes course only one degree, over many miles its destination will change dramatically, but trying to steer away from an iceberg only 100 feet away is pointless.
The time for America to safely turn away from the iceberg has almost elapsed.
America is at a crossroads, reeling in unprecedented fashion. The decisions its leaders make over the next several years will largely determine if it will continue its debt-ridden decline into a second-world nation with a first-world military, or whether its beacon will once again glow brightly as the Shining City on a Hill, the civilized leader in an increasingly chaotic world.
If the choice is Business As Usual, if it’s Robert Redford’s line, if it’s divisive politics at its worst, then it won’t matter which Party rules Washington, because the lights will already have gone out.
And what a wholly avoidable tragedy that would be.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com. Readers of his column, "Freindly Fire," hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller "Catastrophe." Freind, whose column appears nationally in Newsmax, also serves as a guest commentator on Philadelphia-area talk radio shows, and makes numerous other television and radio appearances, most notably on FOX. He