Column: The Public Eye: Campaign 2006: A Look at the Winners and Losers

By Bob Burnett
Tuesday November 14, 2006

As the dust settles from the tumultuous 2006 mid-term elections, let’s consider the big political winners and losers: 


Winners: The two biggest winners were Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama. Pelosi not only because she’s going to be the first woman to ever hold the office of Speaker of the House of Representatives, but also because of the fine job she did leading the Dems out of the wilderness. Opponents often dismiss her as “too liberal.”  

By stereotyping the new Speaker, they overlook her toughness and inexhaustible energy. In the 2006 Congressional campaigns, Pelosi tirelessly toured the country: rallying both Democrats and Independents, and raising millions of dollars for Democratic candidates. She’s succeeded at organizing Congressional Dems—a job often described as herding cats—because she possesses a rare political quality: she’s a leader. 

Barack Obama was the Democrats’ “go to” guy in 2006. Whenever a Democratic candidate needed a boost, either of money or energy, they called in Obama. Like Pelosi, he traveled across the country: mobilizing the faithful. During this process, Obama hit two important political milestones: First, he gained universal credibility as a presidential candidate; everyone who saw Obama, came away impressed with his poise and intelligence. And, somewhere during this period, Obama ceased being “the Black Senator from Illinois” and became, instead, “the remarkable new leader of the Democratic Party.” 

Two other winners were Harry Reid and Howard Dean. Reid because he somewhat unexpectedly became Senate Majority Leader. It can’t help but be the case that his “give ‘em hell, Harry” persona will prove more telegenic than former Majority Leader Bill Frist’s “empty suit” demeanor. 

Despite the objections of Democratic leaders such as Rahm Emanuel and Chuck Schumer, Howard Dean pushed his “fifty state strategy” at the DNC: he made sure that each state had on-the-ground operatives in the areas of field organizing, communications, technology and finance. As a result, Democrats made surprising gains in states such as Indiana and Kansas. 


Losers: While most in our “losers” category are Republicans, two Democrats stand out. Senator John Kerry was a big loser. His gaffe, several days before the election, forced him into an awkward apology. This probably didn’t affect the election results, but it did remind voters of Kerry’s unfortunate propensity for screw-ups. And, ended his long-shot chance as a presidential candidate in 2008. 

It’s difficult to characterize someone who won reelection with 67 percent of the vote as a loser. Nonetheless, it’s hard to see how Hillary Clinton strengthened her presidential chances. Outside New York, the Clinton that voters heard about was Bill. And, when the going got tough, the Democrats called upon Barrack Obama, not Hillary. She may have the money, but Obama’s got the buzz.  

Several Republicans suffered from the election results. The career of Virginia Senator George Allen went down the toilet. He took a double-digit lead and frittered it away in an epic series of campaign missteps. He’s finished as Senator from Virginia and as a GOP Presidential candidate. 

Tennessee Senator Bill Frist resigned his seat in order to launch a 2008 presidential bid. Yet, Frist had no impact on the close race in Tennessee. Indeed, during the entire 2006 Republican campaign Frist was a cipher. 

Even though he wasn’t running for any elected office, another big loser was Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. A few days after telling reporters that he had no plans to replace Secretary Rumsfeld, Bush announced he’d accepted Rumsfeld’s resignation and acknowledged need for a “fresh perspective.” Bush attempted to lay all the blame for the Iraq fiasco on Rumsfeld. It was classic George Bush: rather than take responsibility for leading America into this quagmire, he opted to let Rumsfeld take the fall. 

Of course, the big loser in the midterm election was the president. Exit polls confirmed that many voters were casting their ballots against Bush. Nonetheless, the biggest loser on Nov. 7 was the man who stands behind Dubya: Republican political guru Karl Rove. It was Rove who masterminded Bush’s rise to the presidency and predicted a new conservative hegemony. And, it was also Rove who advised the President that beating drums for an invasion of Iraq would be a winning theme in the 2002 mid-term elections; who advised Bush to play the national security card in the 2004 Presidential elections. 

In 2006, Rove felt that he could continue to rely upon the theme of national security: “vote Republican or the terrorists will get you.” But it didn’t work: voters were more concerned about corruption than they were about Iraq and terrorism. And, most voters felt the war in Iraq was actually hurting the war on terror. Rove started up the GOP ocean liner, and set its initial course, but when it came time for a course correction, he couldn’t do it. Now Democrats have taken the initiative. Can Rove make a come back? Of course. But his miscalculations presented the Democrats with the opportunity to take back the Congress. And a golden opportunity to win the Presidency in 2008. 

Bottom line: the big winners in the 2006 mid-term elections were Democrats and the American people. And, everyone who treasures Democracy. 



Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at