Obama's Big Night

From landmark victories for marijuana and same-sex marriage to picking up seats in the Senate, the left gained much more than the presidency Tuesday.


BOSTON -- Gay marriage won in four states. Two states made marijuana legal. Democrats didn't just keep the Senate in a tough year, they gained seats. And of course, Barack Obama won reelection. Nov. 6, 2012, forecast as the squeaker conclusion to a toss-up race, was not a landslide, but it was a ringing victory for liberals across the board.

* Gay marriage: For the first time, after more than 30 losses, gay marriage won approval at the ballot box. Voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington affirmed same-sex marriage, while Minnesota rejected an amendment that would have banned it.

* Marijuana: Amendments legalizing recreational (not merely medical) marijuana use passed in Colorado and Washington, failing in Oregon. They're likely to get tied up in court, but these measures represent the first statewide wins for the marijuana legalization movement.

* Senate: As of 1 a.m., Nevada, Montana and North Dakota were still too close to call, with the Democratic candidate narrowly ahead in all three. But even without those seats, Democrats had swept the table of competitive Senate races, winning such unlikely races as Missouri and Indiana, elevating Elizabeth Warren over Scott Brown in Massachusetts, and with Tammy Baldwin's win in Wisconsin, electing America's first openly gay member of the U.S. Senate. Assuming Maine independent Angus King caucuses with Democrats, they will have picked up at least two Senate seats.

* Obama: In the end, it wasn't particularly close. Assuming his late leads hold in Florida and Ohio, Obama will have lost just two states from his 2008 sweep, Indiana and North Carolina. Every other swing state -- from Ohio, Iowa and New Hampshire to Virginia, Florida, Colorado and Nevada -- fell for Obama. The Democratic-leaning states Romney tried to put on the board, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, never came close.

Post-election, three major questions loom: What will Congress do on the upcoming set of budget challenges? What reckoning lies ahead for the GOP? And what will the liberal base that powered Obama to victory now demand?

* Congress: The fiscal cliff loometh -- the combined expiration of the Bush tax cuts and the forced spending cuts of sequestration. Obama has sworn to veto any extension of upper-income tax cuts, while House Speaker John Boehner has vowed to stand firm for no tax increases. Something's got to give; Jonathan Chait argues Obama has all the leverage, since if nothing is done, the tax cuts expire.

* Republican armageddon? The traditional post-election blame game may be worse than usual as the GOP tries to decide whether Romney and his campaign take the fall for the loss, or whether the party's demographic challenges must signal a reevaluation of policies toward women and minorities.

* Obama's base: Already Tuesday night, my inbox was filling up with liberal groups sounding notes of both triumph -- and expectation. Labor, which was key to Obama's wins in the Midwest, hopes to ensure he doesn't cave on taxes. Hispanic groups want to see renewed action on immigration. And Obama himself, now that he no longer faces reelection, may feel emboldened to pursue liberal priorities.