The most expensive election campaign in U.S. history came to an end yesterday. According to FEC and independent estimates over $4 billion was spent in the race between President Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney. Although the race appeared to be tight, and in the final days appeared to be a dead heat, in the end the electoral map barely changed and Obama was swept into power with 303 electoral college votes and a much slimmer margin of victory by popular vote. (This morning Florida’s 29 electoral college votes are still undecided as counting continues in that state. The race is very close there with Obama ahead by a mere .07 of a percent.)
The balance of power in Washington remained largely the same despite the large sums of money thrown into this race by individuals, parties, and Super PACs alike. Democrats picked up 1 additional seat in the Senate and 2 additional seats in the House. The President returns for a second term to confront the political gridlock that stymied efforts in his first term to pass a comprehensive jobs bill and financial regulation. The country is poised to dip back into recession as growth slows, revenues drop, job creation remains slack, and the soaring deficit run amok. To avoid another financial cliff more compromise by the Republican Party will be needed, but whether it can get beyond its vicious anti-Obama sentiments in order to do the hard work of governing remains to be seen. It is, in fact, doubtful given its track record during the President’s first term.
In other electoral results the news for progressive politics was largely great. The night was a major political victory for the Constitution and gay and lesbian politics. In Wisconsin, Rep. Tammy Baldwin defeated former governor Tommy Thompson by a decent margin, making her the first lesbian elected to the U.S. Senate. Voters in Maryland and Maine voted to legalize same-sex marriage, while voters in Minnesota rejected a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Referendum 74 to legalize same-sex marriage in the state of Washington was ahead in the polls, and with King County still tallying its ballots the measure will most likely pass. These important votes in four states represents a water-shed moment for the equality movement because they are the first time states have voted to uphold rather than deny the constitutional rights of gay and lesbian citizens. Minds really do change.
The election was also an important victory to bring the senseless and costly war on marijuana to an end. Voters in Washington and Colorado voted to legalize recreational use of the drug. Although a similar measure failed in Oregon, this represents a direct challenge to the federal government by states to change its drug policy. Recent backlash against medical marijuana users by the DEA in California and other states is a case in point why the federal law needs to change to accommodate states’ rights.
Here in California, several important initiatives passed. Voters passed Prop 30 to raise taxes on the wealthiest Californians and temporarily increase sales taxes in order to avoid otherwise devastating cuts to education. Although Prop 34 to eliminate the death penalty did not pass, it was by a narrow margin (53 to 47 percent), signaling the public’s shifting mood on capital punishment. In a victory for criminal justice Prop 36 to reform the state’s draconian “3 strikes” law passed by a wide margin, and this victory should bring some relief to an overcrowded prison system filled with non-violent offenders. Finally, the State Assembly is approaching Democratic supermajorities in both houses, which may help alleviate the state’s governance and budget problems.
In the end, American voters rejected Republican lies that deregulation and less taxes on the wealthy is the solution to a slow economic recovery. Across the nation, voters who were concerned about unemployment voted for Democrats by a significant margin. Perhaps people did not easily forget that 4 years ago the recession swept across America because of, not in spite of, those same policies. The question remains whether President Obama and Congress can get the job done and bring the economy back with healthy, sustainable growth. In the meantime, this victory of progress over the forces of reaction will almost certainly go down in the history books as a vindication of the hard work Obama has done bringing the country back from economic ruin and a crucial turning point in American politics.