The names at the top of the ballot yesterday were Obama and Romney, but the real winners and losers are the constituents and causes who did battle on the ground and on the airwaves, and whose lives and livelihoods will be influenced by what happens over the next four years and beyond.
The winners include:
The Labor Movement: Unions mobilized their members and money in key swing states on behalf of liberal Democrats, including Obama and Sherrod Brown in Ohio, Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts, Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, and many others. In California, labor helped bring out more than 40,000 volunteers and scored two major victories in California -- the defeat of the deceptive anti-union corporate power grab, Proposition 32, and the win for progressive tax ballot measure, Proposition 30. Although unions now represent only 12 percent of American workers, they still remain the most powerful and effective force for liberal issues and Democratic candidates. Union members and their family members turned out in high numbers and voted overwhelmingly for Democrats. Union loyalists also knocked on doors and staffed phone-banks on behalf of candidates and causes that support working families. Thanks to unions and their allies among community groups and faith-based organizations, the lowest-paid workers in Albuquerque, San Jose, and Long Beach will receive pay increases after voters approved ballot proposals Tuesday that will raise the minimum wage for workers in each city. Citywide minimum wage increases were passed in Albuquerque and San Jose, while Long Beach voters approved an ordinance establishing a higher minimum wage for hotel workers in the city.
Women: Women voters favored Obama over Romney by a 55 percent to 43 percent margin, according to preliminary exit polls. Liberal and progressive women candidates made an incredibly strong showing in the swing Senate and House races, notably Warren in Massachusetts and Baldwin in Wisconsin. Other women Dems -- Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota and Mazie Hirono in Hawaii -- replaced males who decided to retire. All Democratic incumbent female senators up for re-election this year won, including Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Dianne Feinstein of California and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. Currently, 17 women -- a record -- serve in the Senate. Even with two them retiring (Republicans Olympia Snowe of Maine and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas), the overall number will increase when the new Senate takes office in January. Another milestone: In New Hampshire, women now hold every key office: Senators Kelly Ayotte (a Republican) and Jeanne Shaheen (Democrat), newly-elected Gov. Maggie Hassan (a Dem), and Dems Carol Shea-Porter and Ann Kuster, who wrested New Hampshire's two House seats from incumbent Republicans. Obama's victory guarantees that Romney won't have an opportunity to appoint justices to the Supreme Court who would have overturned Roe v. Wade. So, congrats to Emily's List, Planned Parenthood, and (again) the labor movement for helping make this happen.
Gays and Lesbians: Voters in Maine, Minnesota, Maryland and Washington approved ballot measures supporting same-sex marriage. Cong. Tammy Baldwin -- who beat former Gov. Tommy Thompson yesterday -- will be the first open lesbian in the Senate. The era in which conservatives can use anti-gay ballot measures and rhetoric as "wedge" issues to mobilize conservative voters is almost over. Voters under 40 are now overwhelmingly in favor of gay rights and many voters over 40 are shifting their views and their voting behavior. Preliminary exit polls reveal that nearly six-in-ten Latino voters (59 percent) said their state should legally recognize same-sex marriage. All this is a remarkable change in public opinion and voting behavior in less than a decade -- a real tribute to the gay rights movement and to the American people.
Latinos: Strong support from Latino votes helped Obama win in key swing states. About 69 percent of Latinos voted for Obama, roughly the same margin as voted for him four years ago. (This helped compensate for the decline in support for Obama among white men from 41 percent in 2008 to 36 percent this year). Obama made a big effort to win the estimated 24 million eligible Hispanic voters. Immigrant rights and Latino political groups worked hard for Obama's election. In Nevada, for example, the Culinary Workers union and Latino groups joined forces to target Latino voters for Obama, who won that key swing state. Even in states that Obama lost, particularly in the South, the growing Latino vote will make a difference in the future. In Texas, for example, Obama won just 40 percent of the total votes but won 57 percent of Latinos, the fastest-growing demographic group in the state. All this makes it likely that comprehensive immigration reform and passage of the federal DREAM Act will gain momentum, and that even some Republicans in Congress might feel sufficient pressure to support these initiatives.
Enviros: Environmental groups like the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters played a role in forging Democratic victories. Obama's victory and the increase in liberal Dems in the House and Senate means that enviros will have a voice in shaping issues over the next few years.
Occupy Wall Street: Let's give Occupy Wall Street a high-five. In September 2011, a handful of activists took over Zuccotti Park in New York, then the movement spread to every city in the country. Although OWS was forced after a few months to disperse physically, its ideas have continued to resonate with the American public. It changed the nation's conversation at dinner tables, workplaces, and newsrooms. It helped frame the political debate in both the Republican and Democratic primaries by focusing public and media attention on the widening disparities of income, wealth, and power. Even in the GOP primaries, Romney's opponents focused on his Bain Capital experience as a job-killing out-sourcing plutocrat. Democrats took advantage of the changing mood to focus attention on corporate power and the billionaires behind the Tea Party and the new right-wing Super PACs. There's no guarantee that this will lead to a new wave of much-needed government regulation of Wall Street and big business, but it sets the table for activists to push that progressive agenda.
African Americans and Jews: Ho-hum. Americans elected a Black president for the second time. Let's not forget what an historic milestone that is! African American voters, who comprise 13 percent of the electorate, showed their loyalty to Obama, giving him 93 percent of their votes. Jews, who comprise only about 2 percent of all voters nationwide, were the next most loyal demographic group for Obama. They gave 70 percent of their votes to the young president. This was a slight decline from four years ago, but Republicans' predictions that Jews would abandon Obama proved to be little more than a fantasy. In key swing states like Ohio and (likely but still-counting) Florida, African Americans and Jews' support for Obama helped lift him over the victory threshold, and also helped Dems and liberals win victories for Congress, State Houses, and city offices around the country.
Who were the big losers?
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce:. Money can buy TV ads, but it can't you love. The Chamber and its allies in other big business lobby groups poured or directed outrageous sums of money to help Romney and other Republican candidates. For sure, corporate-backed campaign cash helped some GOP candidates prevail, but overall the Big Business lobby took it on the chin on Tuesday.
The Tea Party: In the real world of conservative politics, corporations and the rich provide the cash, but groups like the Tea Party and the National Rifle Association provide the ground troops. We can thank the Tea Party (and its major backers like the Koch brothers and former-Congressman-turned-business lobbyist Dick Armey) for pushing the Republican Party so far to the right that its out-of-touch candidates lost races for President and in key swing races for Congress. The Tea Party helped dump veteran GOP Senator Richard Lugar in Indiana, who lost in the GOP primary to a lunatic right-winger named Richard Mourdock, who showed his true feelings when he said in October that pregnancy resulting from rape was "something God intended." On Tuesday, Rep. Joe Donnelly beat Mourdock handily for the Senate seat. The same thing happened in Missouri, where the Tea Party helped Rep. Todd Akin win the GOP nomination for Senate over several less overtly reactionary opponents. We all know what happened then: Akin told the world that some rapes were "legitimate," and incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill, who polls showed was facing a tough uphill battle and was considered the "most endangered" Senate Democrat, beat Akin by a landslide 55 percent to 39 percent margin. Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, a Democrat, won a second term by fending off a challenge from Tea Party Republican U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg. Of the 60 members of the Tea Party Caucus, 47 (including Rep Michelle Bachmann) clinched victory and three others are still too close to call. One of those is Florida Rep. Allen West , who was trailing his Democratic opponent Patrick Murphy by 50.4 percent to 49.6 percent, about a 3,000 vote difference, by Wednesday morning. West -- a crazy right-winger -- demanded a recount. Six other Tea Party caucus members were defeated at the polls, plus another seven who retired, lost a primary or sought higher office. In Minnesota, Rep. Michele Bachmann - the founder of the Tea Party caucus in Congress whose delusions of grandeur led her to run for President -- hung onto her suburban seat by a super-slim margin. She beat challenger Jim Graves by just over 3,000 votes out of nearly 350,000 votes cast. It was the nation's most expensive House race. The two candidates raised a total of $22.7 million, but Bachmann outspent Graves by more than 12-to-one to hang on to her seat, revealing how vulnerable she is to defeat.
Karl Rove, Charles and David Koch, and Sheldon Adelson: These four guys tried to buy this election but only managed to become symbols of everything that's wrong with American politics. Thanks to the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United ruling, they were able to create Super PACs and so-called "social welfare" organizations (American Crossroads and Americans for Prosperity) that bundled big bucks and directed them to right-wing candidates and causes. Rove (George W. Bush's political guru), the billionaire Koch brothers (libertarian and global-warming deniers who inherited an energy empire from their father, a founder of the John Birch Society), and Adelson (a billionaire casino owner) represent the worst elements of the Republican Party and America's corporate plutocracy. The new campaign finance laws make it possible to hide the names of donors to allegedly independent "issue" groups, so it is impossible to know for sure how much money they spent and which candidates and causes they supported. But we know that Adelson wasted millions of dollars trying to keep Newt Gingrich's candidate alive and then switched his money machine to Romney. The Koch brothers donated big-time to many Tea Party candidates, to California's anti-union Proposition 32 (which was defeated), and to the campaign to defeat California's progressive tax measure Proposition 30 (which prevailed). Many candidates with ties to Rove went down to defeat. One was Carl DeMaio, a conservative business-backed San Diego city councilman who lost to liberal Democratic Congressman Bob Filner to become that city's mayor, despite having raised $3.3 million to less than $1 million for Filner, who had the support of the labor movement and other liberal groups. Post-Bush, Rove has tried to carve out a niche for himself as the GOP's go-to political Machiavelli and pundit for Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, but after yesterday's elections, Rove's reputation as a brilliant guru will be seriously damaged. And a final shout-out to Charles Munger Jr., a California libertarian multi-millionaire and Stanford University physicist who inherited his fortune from his dad (Charles Sr., Warren Buffet's business partner) and for a hobby spends it on right-wing causes. The younger Munger spent about $35 million of his own never-earned money to defeat Proposition 30 and enact Proposition 32. Munger's side lost both battles, but he helped enrich lots of political consultants and TV stations who ran the misleading ads he helped pay for, thus stimulating the California economy.
Peter Dreier is the E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics, and chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department, at Occidental College. His new book, The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame, was published in July by Nation Books.