If Tuesday’s election was a referendum on the Obama administration, nowhere was the result more symbolic than in his party’s loss of his old senate seat.
It’s been a far better night for Democrats in the Senate than in the House. Democrats not only held onto control of the Senate, but prevailed in majority leader Harry Reid’s all-out scramble for reelection in Nevada.
Still, their losses in close elections in Pennsylvania and Illinois were big disappointments.
The Illinois loss is a particularly personal blow to Mr. Obama. In recent months, he’s visited Chicago, hosted fundraisers, and recorded "robo-calls" for Mr. Giannoulias, all in an effort to help Democrats hang on to the seat he vacated two years ago.
But it wasn’t enough.
And this in Obama’s home state, which had been considered reliably Democratic.
Still, a few other factors in Illinois are at play. Giannoulias never managed to generate any enthusiasm, even among many Democrats there. And he faced a candidate, in Congressman Kirk, who is a moderate Republican able to capture independent votes even though he had many missteps.
Then there’s the issue of how the seat was originally filled – by impeached ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, currently awaiting a retrial on corruption charges. His appointment of Roland Burris to the vacated Senate seat, despite controversy and suspicions that he might have tried to sell the seat, didn’t help. Had Blagojevich let his successor fill the seat – or let the state legislature order a special election back when Obama enjoyed more support – it’s unlikely that Democrats would be in this position now.
In Pennsylvania, meanwhile, Democrats’ disappointment hinges more on the fact that the race – once considered a virtually certain takeover for Republicans – was so close.
But the last votes to be counted were from more conservative suburban counties, and Mr. Toomey prevailed.
As a consolation, Democrats learned of the Illinois and Pennsylvania losses at about the same time that they won Senate races in California and Nevada. And they might also take comfort in the fact that Kirk is unlikely to be a sure vote for Republicans.