Round up of 2006 – the winners

In a year the Democrats gained the House and Senate and took a majority of the governorships for the first time since 1994, most of the winners are Democrats. The losers – the focus of next week’s roundup – are dominated by Republicans.

The biggest winner, of course, was Nancy Pelosi. In January she becomes the first woman Speaker of the House. She has the opportunity to create and dominate the agenda, and given the advantages of incumbency in House elections it will be no easy task for Republicans to dislodge her in 2008. Nonetheless, she does need to make her mark early. Several of the seats the Democrats gained were won in exceptional circumstances, and small Republican gains next time seem likely.

The new Senate Leader, Harry Reid, has similar opportunities. A more diffident, but also more moderate, leader of his party, Reid neither inspires the liberal base as much, nor worries independents to the same degree as Pelosi. His majority is tenuous in the short term. Senator Tim Johnson’s sudden illness, for example, threatens it. But in the medium term there are more Republican Senators under threat in 2008 than Democrats.

Rep. Rahm Emmanuel and New York’s Senator Chuck Schumer were the architects of the victorious campaign, and immediately catapulted themselves to hero status with activists. DNC Chair Howard Dean has similarly enhanced his status. His strategy of supporting Democrats in the ‘red’ states paid off, with victories in Montana and Virginia.

Gaining New York’ state house for the first time in 12 years was a big win for the Democrats, and Eliot Spitzer won in style. While 2008 may be a little early for him, 2012 or 2016 could see Spitzer running strongly for the White House.

Two polls of likely Iowa caucus goers have shown surprising results. In June, John Edwards had a small lead over Hillary Clinton and by December it was a commanding lead. Edwards is only leading Democrat who is currently unemployed. His huge personal wealth gives him the time to stump the early voting states tirelessly, and it seems to be paying off.

The charismatic ‘rock star’ of the Democrats is Barack Obama. Just two years in the Senate, so far, he nonetheless has (arguably) a longer political résumé than either Edwards or Clinton, as he also served as a legislator in Illinois for several years. He is much in demand across the country and raises huge sums for his party’s candidates.

Only one state which elected a Democrat governor four years ago elected a Republican in 2006: California. The big victor there is Arnold Schwarzeneggar who won the state in a recall election in 2003 and held it in November. He is constitutionally barred from seeking the presidency, but his endorsement may matter a lot.

One other Republican governor who has gained ground is the outgoing governor of Massachusetts: Mitt Romney. He has captured more of Bush’s big donors than anyone bar John McCain and has (arguably) the most extensive campaign infrastructure of any Republican presidential contender. As Chair of the Republican Governors’ Association he saw the party lose its majority in state houses, but this setback aside he is well-positioned for a White House run. He is 'favorite son' in three states: Massachusetts (where media coverage spills over into early voting New Hampshire), Michigan (another early voting state) and Utah.

Quentin Langley is editor of an academic at the University of Cardiff and is a columnist with Campaigns & Elections. This article was first published in the Common Sense series for Lake Champlain Weekly.

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