Tuesday's off-year elections revealed a truth well known in sports that also applies to politics: The side that's more energized wins. In Virginia, an energized Republican Party apparently gained a tie in the Senate, giving the GOP control of all three branches - governor, House and Senate - for the first time since Reconstruction. A recount could reverse it, but right now, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling's Senate vote would be the 20-20 tie breaker. This was no small feat, given the gerrymandering by the last Democratic majority.
In Loudoun County, all nine supervisor posts went to the GOP. Even the liberal Democrat School Board chairman who thinks children should read homosexual penguin books lost his seat.
Dick Black, a former House delegate and prominent social conservative, trounced his Democratic opponent for a new state Senate seat despite being vilified by a local newspaper and The Washington Post in articles so biased that the reporters must have typed them only with their left hands. Seriously. They read like hit pieces from Mr. Black's opponent's campaign mailers.
Overall, it was a slam dunk for the GOP in the Old Dominion. Virginia has a vibrant Tea Party movement, a charismatic governor and a motivated base. The election results also reflected public rejection of the Obama administration's disastrous economic and regulatory policies.
Brian Moran, state Democratic Party chairman, complained in a radio interview that his candidates would have done fine sticking to state and local issues, but Republicans kept "nationalizing" the contests. No wonder President Obama mostly stayed out of Virginia. Few Democrats advertised their party affiliation on campaign signs, even in their stronghold of Northern Virginia. Reckless spending, 9 percent unemployment, a profoundly unpopular health care takeover and a series of unconstitutional power grabs by the Obama administration have a lot of people on edge.
In Westmoreland County, Pa., where Democrats hold a 53 percent to 37 percent lead in registration, Republicans took over a majority of seats on the county commission. A Republican write-in candidate even took out the two-term Democratic county controller.
In Mississippi, Republicans elected Republican Phil Bryant as governor and took over the House for the first time in 140 years, despite the failure of a pro-life "personhood" ballot initiative. Democrats prevailed in Kentucky, re-electing Gov. Steve Beshear, who promised a "lean and efficient government."
In Ohio, teachers unions and other left-wing groups had the Big Mo. They took it on the chin in 2010, but pushed back hard, overturning a new law championed by Republican Gov. John Kasich that sharply curbed public-employee union power. The unions poured in $30 million, securing victory by a 2-to-1 margin. The union campaign wisely centered on "first responders" such as police and firefighters, who have the public's gratitude because they save lives. Average taxpaying residents, who have less of a stake in the outcome than the unions themselves, did not have an equivalent response.
But something else happened. By an even larger margin than the unions' victory, Ohioans repudiated Obamacare, voting for a resolution calling for a state ban on the individual mandate to buy health insurance. It's not that hard to see why. People in unions or with family members or neighbors in unions voted close to home. But many of these same voters looked at how Obamacare is hiking their insurance premiums and dimming their prospects for keeping first-rate health care, and sent a strong message to President Obama, Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Nancy Pelosi.
In Arizona, a recall election toppled Russell Pearce, the Republican Senate president who sponsored Arizona's tough immigration law. The people who opposed Mr. Pearce out-hustled his supporters, replacing him with another Republican, Jerry Lewis. But there was more to this, as even the New York Times noted: "The law was popular in Arizona and beyond, and gave rise to copycat legislation in several other states, including an even more stringent version in Alabama. ... It was Mr. Pearce's follow-up that got him into trouble. This year, he drafted a proposal to compel medical personnel to question patients about their immigration status, and school officials to do the same with students." Some voters also said they thought Mr. Pearce had grown tone-deaf to his district constituents, which may or may not be the case.
Recall is a constitutionally sound tool to ensure more accountability, but it's a double-edged sword. In recall jurisdictions, politicians no longer can abuse their power, counting on voters' short memories. By the same token, when conscientious lawmakers are targeted by self-serving public-employee unions and other special interests, people who support the lawmaker had better work just as hard.
Unions, with compulsory dues, closed shops and a fawning media, have had a built-in advantage for staging recalls - until now. The Tea Party is a fast-growing counterweight, but like any weapon, it gets rusty if goes unused. Instead of lamenting the confusion at the top of the GOP ticket, Tea Party members might think more about replacing local, state and federal officials who betray conservative principles.
For middle Americans who are watching the political wars from the sidelines: It's no longer an option, folks. If you want to save the country from bigger government, confiscatory taxes, extreme environmentalism, open borders, a weaker military, appeasement abroad and the many-pronged assault on traditional values, you're going to have to get off the couch.
Outhustled by Mr. Obama's 2008 juggernaut in registering new voters, some enterprising conservative Christians are working to even the playing field. A group called championthevote.org is planning to register 5 million new Christian voters by November 2012. Given the tight margins last time in several swing states, a strong Christian influence could be the deciding factor.
As for Democratic strategists looking for a national campaign theme next year, in light of the Ohio results, they might want to downplay Obamacare and fall back on something like "Occupy Congress."
At least that will strengthen their lockstep media support.
Robert Knight is senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a columnist for The Washington Times.
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