Were Democrats' Progressive Votes a Kiss of Death?

This vote was a repudiation of president Obama's policies.

That's the conventional wisdom on cable news today. To a certain extent, it is unarguable. Yesterday was the biggest House pickup by a minority party in sixty years. Exit polls show the public wants government to do more with less. Among people that voted with the Tea Party in mind, two thirds went Republican. That is a repudiation. But were Democrats' progressive votes on the stimulus and health care a kiss of death in the Senate?

Let's take a look at the six seats that have (so far at 11:00AM) flipped to the red column. Sen. Blanche Lincoln lost in a blowout in Arkansas, and Sen. Russ Feingold lost in Wisconsin. Both senators voted for the stimulus and health care overhaul. That's the evidence we have of a Kiss of Death effect, so far.

But Harry Reid squeaked by in Nevada -- albeit, in a race that pundits said he would have lost against anybody besides Sharron Angle. Barbara Boxer won easily in California. Same goes for Mikulski in Maryland, Schumer in New York, Gillibrand in New York, Wyden in Oregon, Leahy in Vermont, and Inouye in Hawaii. Michael Bennet voted for both bills and looks like he's going to hold his razor-thin edge in Colorado. Patty Murray is coming down to the wire in Washington.

So where did the red wave crest? Four of the the six Republican pickups in the Senate were victories over non-incumbents. In Illinois, Alexi Giannoulias replaced the embattled Roland Burris (who replaced Barack Obama) and lost. In North Dakota, Tracy Potter replaced retiring senator Byron Dorgan in the primary, and got smoked. In Indiana, Brad Ellsworth replaced retiring Evan Bayh in the primary and never came close in the polls. In Pennsylvania, Arlen Specter, the Republican turned Democrat who voted for both the stimulus and health care, lost in a primary to the more liberal Joe Sestak (possible Kiss of Death story there), and then Sestak lost in the general election to Pat Toomey.

In short, four of the six Republican pickups were not direct wins over candidates tainted by their progressive votes. They were victories over fresh Democratic faces running against a red tide.

I'll be taking a harder look at the House elections and the progressive Kiss of Death later today. Here's a stat to hold you over: Eight Republicans voted for the House cap and trade bill. All of those pro-climate bill GOP reps who ran for reelection were undefeated last night.


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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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