After the 2006 general midterm elections last Tuesday, the electorate’s will has resounded throughout the country.
Florida voters elected Republican Charlie Crist as their new governor-elect and reelected Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson over Republican challenger Katherine Harris.
With a wide margin in opinion polls for most of the campaign, the race for governor was expected to go for Crist. As the election neared, Democrat Jim Davis closed the gap, but could not muster enough support to pull the upset.
The biggest surprise, however, came as the Democrats took control of both houses of Congress for the first time since the 1994 midterm elections. Many pundits had predicted that the House of Representatives would fall to the Democrats and expected them to pick up seats in the Senate, but not win the latter.
“The new leadership moves the Democratic Party to the right, so it’s interesting to see how it will play out,” said Andrew Kloster, chairman of the UM College Republicans.
In the House, the Democrats won 230 of 435 seats, a net gain of 28 seats since the last election. The party also took a 51- to 49-seat majority in the Senate after Virginia’s Republican Sen. George Allen conceded to his Democratic challenger Jim Webb.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, who lost the Democratic Party’s nomination, and Bernie Sanders of Vermont are two independents who said they will caucus with the Democrats.
“I wasn’t expecting such a big turnover in the House and Senate,” Tina Robles, a graduate student, said. “I knew there was definitely going to be a backlash to the Republican Party, but I didn’t expect such a huge overhaul.”
Stephanie Lopez, a freshman, hopes the new Democratic leadership will bring about some changes to the status quo.
“I’m really excited that Congress is Democratic. I feel now there will be more positive leadership. With Democrats in control, I don’t think the U.S. will be in Iraq much longer,” she said, adding that there may be progress on the issues of gay marriage and abortion.
Michael Bookman, a sophomore and member of UM Young Democrats, agrees that some change is needed.
“I’d like to see a real plan for Iraq, because that’s one of the real issues,” he said. “It should be something the people will agree with and get us out of there within a few years.”
Sarah Canele, a former chair of the UM College Republicans, said the second midterm election for an incumbent historically goes to the opposing party.
“During his first six years, Bush was able to get a lot of his legislative priorities approved,” Canele said. “His last two years won’t be as fruitful because he’s lost a lot of his pull.”
The results of the midterm elections also bring about a few firsts in American politics. Minnesota’s 5th Congressional district elected Democrat Keith Ellison to the House, the first Muslim ever elected to Congress. In another first, current House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, is poised to serve as the first female Speaker of the House.
“This might be a natural progression, a nice easing in to the possibility of a woman becoming president,” said Rodrigo Gasteazoro, an alumnus from the class of 2001. “You can’t expect a woman to be president if a woman’s never been speaker or president pro tempore.”
A study conducted by American University reports that roughly 40 percent of the eligible electorate voted in last week’s elections. Florida voter turnout was estimated at 46 percent by the Florida Department of State.
Zevensuy Rodriguez, a senior, chose not to vote in the midterm elections.
“It’s a very ‘I don’t know’ attitude. Even though I was trying to be informed, I found that I wasn’t clear enough on who to vote for,” he said. “I wasn’t comfortable voting just on party politics.”
Following the Democratic congressional takeover, Bush seemed to acknowledge the voters’ call for change by replacing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld with former CIA director Robert Gates, who served under former president George H.W. Bush.
“Bush has always been responsive to what the voters wanted,” Kloster said. “In terms of pure politics, it was a smart move. It’s changing the face of the administration and now the voters won’t be quite so angry.”
Attempts to contact officers from UM Young Democrats via email were unsuccessful.
Megan Ondrizek may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.