First point: This was an unusually large opportunity for the Republicans. It was totally squandered, not just with inept candidates such as Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin, but also with recruiting failures in half a dozen or more potentially vulnerable seats.
Second point: The numbers matter. Democrats are poised to at least stay at 53 seats in the Senate, but they will probably pick up one or two more. Each one matters. It’s a lot easier to find five Republicans to get cloture than it is to find seven; it’s also a lot easier to get to a simple majority when your party can afford to allow some senators vote the other way.
Third point: As many have noted, the incoming group is more liberal than the outgoing group. The headline there is Connecticut, where Chris Murphy replaces Joe Lieberman, but overall the caucus should be a fair amount more liberal.
The fourth point might be the most important one: The Democrats are replacing a group of aging, past-prime senators (or in some cases senators who were never very active beyond providing constituent service and a vote) with a highly promising group of newcomers. We’ll have to see which ones become stars, but Tammy Baldwin, Elizabeth Warren, Martin Heinrich, Tim Kaine and Mazie Hirono would all seem to have a great deal of potential. Not only that, but several strong senators first elected in 2006 will now continue their careers.
Innovative, hardworking, effective senators can raise the profile of issues that have languished and can find ways to get measures passed that weren’t thought possible. That makes the nation better. They can also provide energetic oversight of the executive branch (even when their own party controls the White House), and that, too, can lead to better governance. Oh, and if you really have to talk presidential politics – yes, some of the senators elected or reelected last night will wind up running for president eventually. It really isn’t just about the numbers.
Put it all together, and you have just a huge story, one that will last – well, it’s certainly going to last beyond when Barack Obama leaves office, isn’t it? And some of these winners will be around a long while after that. Congress matters, and this was a stunning, stunning, result.