How Bad a Night for the GOP? The Seven Deadly Indicators

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l. to r.: Mannie Garcia / AFP / Getty; Getty; Gary Kazanjian / AP

Representatives John Murtha of Pennsylvania and Jean Schmidt of Ohio

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Arizona's 3rd District The Republican Party seized Capitol Hill in 1994 in the name of small-government conservatism, but many GOP revolutionaries developed a taste for pork once they got to dispense it; Republican rule in the Bush era created record spending, record earmarks, record deficits and a series of scandals. John Shadegg is one of the last true believers of the class of '94, and a possible candidate for House minority leader if he doesn't lose his own seat to Democrat Bob Lord. Shadegg's potential rise to leadership — and potential fall from Congress — are both signs of the times. When supposedly conservative Republican rule has forced the country into quasi-socialism, the appeal of conservative Republicans starts to fade. And the consistent defeats of Republican moderates have left a GOP caucus dominated by conservatives who believe the party lost power in 2006 because it was soft on spending, and will blame its losses in 2008 on McCain's softness on almost everything else. There isn't much evidence to support this theory, and it's one more way the party could go the way of the Whigs.

The Schadenfreude Seats One of the nice things about wave elections is that they're the only way to end the careers of some politicians who deserve it. At the top of this year's class is convicted Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, along with his House partner in pork, Don Young. A just electoral god would also punish Minnesota Representative Michelle Bachmann, who called Obama anti-American and then lied about it; North Carolina Representative Robin Hayes, who said "liberals hate real Americans" and then lied about it; and Senator Elizabeth Dole, who ran ads calling her Christian opponent "godless." Campaign hell should reserve a special place for Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss, who won his seat by comparing triple-amputee Max Cleland to Saddam Hussein, and who recently fired up his base by warning that blacks were voting in record numbers. On the Democratic side, Florida Congressman Tim Mahoney has made a valiant effort to defy the wave; after promising a new era of family values en route to claiming Mark Foley's seat, he recently admitted to "multiple affairs," as if he couldn't recall them all. Arch-porker John Murtha of Pennsylvania is also way past his expiration date, as he recently demonstrated by trashing his own constituents as racist rednecks.

Florida's 25th District Joe Garcia used to be a director of the hard-core Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), a lobby group that made the NRA look like squishes. When Mel Martinez of Orlando became the first Cuban-American Cabinet secretary, Garcia told me Martinez was slightly less militant about Cuba because he was "spared the meat-grinder, nobody-gets-out-alive exile politics we practice with such reckless abandon here in South Florida." He didn't make that sound like a good thing. Anyway, Garcia is now a Democratic candidate for Congress, and on Cuba, he's the moderate in the race. That's because Bush's GOP — led locally by even harder-line exiles like Garcia's opponent, Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart — took anti-Castro politics to zany extremes, sharply restricting Cuban Americans from visiting or even sending money to families on the island. Not even CANF supports that anymore, and now Diaz-Balart and his brother Lincoln are facing the fights of their careers. Garcia is only 44, and as much as he hates Castro, he represents a new generation of Cuban-American politics that tries to transcend the thug with the beard; he's focusing more on the economy. It would be pretty weird if the Castro brothers end up clinging to power longer than the Diaz-Balart brothers.

Proposition 8: The Culture War's Last Gasp? My college roommate finally married his college sweetheart last weekend in San Francisco. They love each other, they're great together, and they've stayed together for 18 years. It's tough to see why the fact that they're both dudes should be any more problematic than the fact that they're both economists, or how their one marriage threatens the institution more than Newt Gingrich's three. But California's voters will have a chance to invalidate Jed and Eric's marriage today by voting for Proposition 8, which was why their private ceremony had an unavoidably political feel, from their decision to co-opt the slave-wedding tradition of jumping a broom to the guests who wore "Marriage Is So Gay!" T shirts. Anyway, national polls show a dramatic shift toward tolerance of homosexuality in the 15 years since the gays-in-the-military flap. Obama and Governor Schwarzenegger both came out against Prop. 8; so did the Republican mayor of San Diego, whose daughter is gay. Still, it could pass — and if it fails, it could spark yet another major backlash that could cause short-term problems for Democrats in what used to be called "red states" before tonight.

No matter what happens at the polls, though, it's a good bet that the public will be even more tolerant of homosexuality in another 15 years — and that Jed and Eric will still be together.

Read "Congressional Races to Watch '08."

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