It was a decidedly mixed night for gay rights. Maine narrowly rejected their gay marriage law, while Washington upheld a law allowing civil unions. Chapel Hill, North Carolina elected an openly gay mayor, while Houston, Texas saw an openly gay women come in first in their mayoral election (there will be a runoff). Kalamazoo, Michigan passed an anti-discrimination measure that protects people from discrimination based on sexual orientation. Meanwhile, gay activist Eric Resnick won a seat on the Canton, Ohio, Board of Education. The defeat in Maine was disheartening, but I think the most positive sign is that gays are winning elected office at a more steady clip. That’s a better indicator of social acceptance than the results of a low-turnout ballot initiative.

As for the national political implications of last night’s elections, the first thing to consider is that the Democrats picked up one net seat in the House of Representatives and will have two more votes for the remainder of the 111th Congress.
Of course, the big upset was in NY-23, where Democrat Bill Owens comfortably defeated the Palinist, Doug Hoffman. But John Garamendi also won a special election in CA-10. Both candidates have expressed support for a public option in the health care reform bill, and Garamendi apparently prefers a single-payer system. He replaces the decidedly centrist Ellen Tauscher, who retired to work on nuclear non-proliferation issues at Hillary’s State Department. Owens was a registered Republican until recently, and we can expect him to compile one of the most conservative voting records of any northern Democrat. He’ll add one more vote to the Blue Dog caucus, giving them just a shade more clout in the House. But, he’s also a bit of insurance against the Republicans retaking the House, and he’ll be a more consistent vote than his predecessor John McHugh, who is now Secretary of the Army.

The election of Owens, in a geographically huge Upstate New York district that hasn’t been represented by a Democrat since before Abraham Lincoln was elected president 1871, completes the process of painting blue the entire region from Maine to the western suburbs of Rochester and down into New Jersey. In all of New York and New England, the GOP now has one seat between Rochester and Buffalo and one seat on Long Island. And lest we think that the governor’s race in New Jersey signals a resurrection of the Republican Party in the region, the Republicans only picked up one net Assembly seat. There were no coattails whatsoever, and no sign of a general revolt against incumbent Democrats.

The same cannot be said for Virginia. The Republicans had a huge night there, winning governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and five or six seats in the House of Delegates. More than anything else, these victories were caused by depressed turnout among the Democratic base. This might more accurately be described as a return to the norm after Obama’s candidacy fundamentally altered the typical makeup of the Virginia electorate. Progressives will argue that Obama is at fault for failing to excite the base, but that’s only a tiny part of the explanation. No matter what he did, he couldn’t turn out his supporters at the same rate when he wasn’t on the ballot.

Erick Erickson of Red State invested most of his energy in the NY-23 race, and he is declaring victory despite the loss.

First, the GOP now must recognize it will either lose without conservatives or will win with conservatives. In 2008, many conservatives sat home instead of voting for John McCain. Now, in NY-23, conservatives rallied and destroyed the Republican candidate the establishment chose.

I have said all along that the goal of activists must be to defeat Scozzafava. Doug Hoffman winning would just be gravy. A Hoffman win is not in the cards, but we did exactly what we set out to do — crush the establishment backed GOP candidate.

Here’s the interesting thing. Erickson goes on to make the same argument that the progressive blogosphere makes about third parties and working within the party to make positive change.

Secondly, and just as importantly, there has all of a sudden been a huge movement among some activists to go the third party route. We see in NY-23 that this is not possible as third parties are not viable.

Third parties lack funding and ability for a host of reasons. Conservatives are going to have to work from within the GOP. The GOP had better pay attention.

It’s an interesting spin. Erickson is trying to shepherd these shock troops back inside the GOP tent. But the Teabaggers are not a domesticated animal. Erickson is going to need the equivalent of a bear-trap to regain control of this movement. They will go after any Republican who crosses conservative orthodoxy and seek to destroy all recruits who might match the moderate social beliefs of the dozens of districts that have recently fallen into Democratic hands. This is a great strategy for keeping already elected Republicans from crossing the aisle and lending bipartisan support for anything on Obama’s agenda. But as a strategy for taking back Congress, it’s about the most self-defeating approach possible.

Erickson wants to go after Florida governor and U.S. Senate candidate Charlie Crist next.

For all intents and purposes, NY-23 is a trial run for Florida. And in Florida, the conservative candidate is operating inside the GOP. If John Cornyn and the NRSC do not want to see Florida go the way of NY-23, they better stand down.

I’m not sure what ‘standing down’ means in this context. Erickson is threatening to hand the Florida senate seat to the Democrats if Crist is the Republican nominee. I don’t know whether that is within the Teabagger Movement’s power without running Rubio as a third-party candidate in the general election. But Rubio might be able to beat Crist and win the nomination. In such an event, the chances for Kendrick Meek, the likely Democratic nominee, will go up considerably. And, if the Republicans lose the Florida seat, their chances of knocking the Democratic caucus below sixty members will be significantly diminished. Of course, this Teabagging Movement will not be restricting their mischief to only Florida. They could make trouble for the GOP candidates in Illinois, Connecticut, and elsewhere.

The lessons of the night are that the Democrats need to focus on job creation next year, while taking care to satisfy and motivate their base voters. The Republicans are in a real jam. They ought to be in good position to pick up seats, but their opportunities will be crushed if they continue to be intimidated by their fringe base.

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