IN DISTRICTS across America yesterday, voters took a break from the Tip O'Neill dictum and voted national politics, not local.
The unpopularity of President Bush, and the war he continues to wage in Iraq, were key issues in many of the races that proved pivotal as Democrats moved to regain power on Capitol Hill.
Also, the outgoing Congress was by many accounts one of the least productive in decades, and was also beset by scandal. In the House alone, four Republicans left in disgrace. Speaker Dennis Hastert was steadily loyal to Bush, even as the president's ratings slumped in district after district.
While the composition of the new Congress was the central focus, other questions had important implications for the future.
Specifically, would the flood of negative campaigning work, as it has so often inthe past, and thereby assure that futurecampaigns will be caked in even moremud?
Also, how would the new voting machines and other attempts at electoral "reform" work, and, to the extent they didn't, how could the most basic foundation of the nation's democracy continue to be so compromised six years after the Florida debacle?
There is no question that both parties invested in negativity, blasting opposing candidates six to eight times as often as they supported their own nominees. A study by Factcheck.org, a website run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, found that 91 percent of Republican commercials in the 101 leading media markets were negative, but the Democrats were not far behind at 81 percent.
But the results weren't all favorable to the most negative campaigns. Not only did Deval Patrick win here, polls indicated he benefited from the nastiness of the campaign against him, and from his success at turning the issue against Republican Kerry Healey.
Nationally, House Republicans ran ads in many districts raising the specter of the disaster that would ensue if Democrats Charles Rangel, John Conyers, and Barney Frank gained power. As Frank pointed out, that was a bald "appeal to the other" -- two blacks and a gay Jew -- when in fact Democrats such as George Miller and David Obey, two white Catholics, would have even more powerful positions in a Democratic-le d House.
As for the voting, only minutes had passed after the polls opened before the horror stories started coming in, especially from Florida and Ohio, the most problematic states in 2000 and 2004, as well as Indiana. Nonfunctioning machines, error-prone poll workers, and numerous other problems laid bare a problem that cries out for solution, so that the nation can have confidence in the person elected president in 2008.