Barack Obama’s historic election as the first black man to step into the office of the president is rocking the nation and the world with waves of hope and wonder. The arrogant and antagonistic policies of President George W. Bush and his Republican Party have been soundly repudiated and swept away as a blue tide rolled across the nation’s polls on Tuesday. Democrats are now firmly in charge and facing the arduous task of healing the extensive damage to our financial system and global reputation, and uniting a citizenry sorely divided by brutal and failed Republican policies.
Election rejection might be a good way to describe what happened to Republicans when all the votes were finally counted. Obama’s campaign has been accurately described as “nearly flawless” and, indeed, the results bear out that description. Early on, Obama followed his own path, turning not to wealthy older patrons as so many politicians do, but to the energy and enthusiasm of the young. While not abandoning the campaign methodologies of the past, Obama’s team incorporated the technological advantages of the day to energize his quickly growing young base through the Internet, cell phones, text messaging and campaign events that seemed more like rock concerts than boring exercises in political futility.
And of course, everywhere he went his stunning oratory, delivered in a fashion we haven’t seen in this country in a long time, brought the crowds to their feet, filled them with hope for the future and paved the way to the presidency on the promise that change, real change, was vital to America’s future and riding on the shoulders of this young man’s vision for a new and better country.
That energy carried Obama to the White House, but it didn’t stop there. Come January, President Obama will address a Congress fully in the hands of the Democrats, having brought dozens of new members to the House and a handful more to their slim majority in the Senate.
Outside the beltway, the blue tide rolled on. In a year in which incumbents could have been tossed out of office wholesale due to the state of the nation’s economy, Democrats found themselves winning seats at virtually every level while their Republican counterparts struggled to distance themselves from the historically unpopular Bush. But where could the Republicans turn? John McCain, a self-described maverick, tried to transform himself into a standard-bearer for the party, but came up short on providing an image, a platform or even a shred of inspiration for Republicans. As a result, the GOP was battered across the board.
Here in Montana, Democrats appear to have swept to victory in almost every statewide contest. Gov. Brian Schweitzer easily defeated his Republican challenger Roy Brown in a race that seemed to lack any defining characteristics. Schweitzer ran on “more of the same” and Brown failed to turn voters his way, simply saying he would do more than Schweitzer on energy development and controlling government spending, but lacking any details as to how he would get the job done other than to appoint more useless task forces.
U.S. Sen. Max Baucus easily defeated his multi-party opponent, 85-year old Bob Kelleher. Why Baucus had to take $11 million dollars in campaign contributions to defeat Kelleher’s pitiful challenge remains a mystery, especially when an estimated 90 percent of his large contributions came from out-of-state sources such as AIG, the nation’s largest insurance firm that recently received a taxpayer-funded Congressional bailout. Toss in similarly large donations from hedge-fund managers, bankers and other Wall Street pirates, and one might credibly wonder why Baucus felt the need to indebt himself so visibly.
In a similar dysfunctional race, incumbent Republican Denny Rehberg trounced his Democratic opponent John Driscoll, who refused to raise or spend any money on the campaign. While Democrats missed a great opportunity to take out Rehberg in this historic election, he’s the lone Republican standing after the blue tide swept through.
Montana’s Republican Party also pledged to “take back the Land Board,” but failed miserably. Schweitzer remains chair of the board and will be joined by Linda McCulloch, who appears to have defeated incumbent Republican Brad Johnson for secretary of state. Former legislator Monica Lindeen, who took a whipping in her run against Rehberg two years ago, bounced back with a win against state Sen. Duane Grimes to take the office of state auditor and her seat on the Land Board.
In the hotly contested open seat for attorney general, Steve Bullock narrowly defeated Republican candidate Tim Fox, bringing yet another Democrat to the Land Board to fill the seat formerly held by Attorney General Mike McGrath, who won his bid to become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. And capping the sweep, Denise Juneau, a brilliant young woman, has captured the superintendent of public instruction slot, making history as the first American Indian to do so.
Former U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, who chaired McCain’s Montana effort, put it straight when asked about what happened to the once-powerful Republicans in the Big Sky. Claiming Republicans faced “a very acidic landscape,” he concluded: “It’s a wonder we got any votes at all.” For once, it’s easy to agree with Burns, who lost his Senate seat two years ago to Jon Tester thanks to Republican policy failures and public angst over the direction in which the Republicans were taking the nation. That McCain eked out a slim victory over Obama in Montana is a Pyrrhic victory at best.
What, at press time, remains unknown is the final count on the legislature. Given the number of Republican holdovers, they may yet control the Senate, while the House is a toss-up. If one or both chambers actually do go Republican, the GOP will have at least one leg to stand on.
But in the end, Obama’s blue tide has truly swept the nation, including Montana, and change, hope and a new tomorrow are headed our way.
Helena’s George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at opinion