Does Chambliss win mean trouble for Democrats?

Some observers say Tuesday's results are a backlash, or at least an end to Obamamentum, but they're reading too much into the race.

By Alex Koppelman
December 3, 2008 9:40PM (UTC)
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It just doesn't seem possible to read a true national trend into Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss' run-off win. Chambliss is, after all, from Georgia -- these days a dependably red state -- and the fact that the campaign even had to go to a run-off was surprising, and probably attributable only to the surge in Democratic turnout in the state due to the presence of Barack Obama on the ballot on Nov. 4th.

But, of course, some people are trying to claim the results are a sign of something bigger. A few choice examples:

  • ABC News' Rick Klein and Hope Ditto, writing for The Note: "Fresh from the glow of their historic electoral sweep, Democrats are getting a glimpse of their own limits. President-elect Barack Obama’s pull wasn’t enough to bring out voters in Georgia one more time, for one more Senate seat."
  • CNN's David Gergen (via Todd Beeton): "[T]hese last couple of days have been a real dose of harsh reality for the Obama team. You know, after they had that -- they announced their economic heavy weights coming in, the market rallied for three days in a row there, and this week, the markets have been down, the economic news is pretty dire. And now they've had this defeat in Georgia. And it seems to be a fairly decisive defeat. And I think it's really reminded the Obama team of, you know, as much hope as they have and they've started in the country, there are some harsh limits they're by bouncing up against... I think this actually puts a lot more pressure on Barack Obama to govern much more from the center and not from the left. He is going to need Republicans now. He's going to need a bipartisan approach on his economic stimulus package and on other things, even though as all this claims has lined up to get money. He's going to need some Republican votes."
  • Don Surber: "Sarah Palin wins the first round as Sen. Saxby Chambliss wins the runoff. Gov. Palin went to Georgia and saved the Republican senator from the dustbin of history. I suspect it will be downplayed by the media. But if you look at the early posts at the lefty blogs, you see they really had high hopes -- which were dropped like a moose by Gov. Palin... The seat means little to anyone. It is Palin who has them scared."
  • Bill Dupray: "Will the MSM hail this GOP win as the first repudiation of the Obama Administration? After all, the Obots threw a pile of cash at this race and brought in all the heavy-hitters. Perhaps a case of buyers’ remorse set in and the voters wanted to curtail Obama’s ambitious Socialist agenda."

Come on. This election showed the Democrats' limits? OK, sure, if you define "limits" as "being unable to perform miracles."

The national political situation undoubtedly had some effect on the results here. Clearly, Republicans could be motivated to vote by the threat of a 60-seat Democratic majority in the Senate. But let's not get too carried away. Chambliss won this time around by about 15 percentage points; the results currently stand at 57.4-42.6 in his favor. Compare that to his first race, when he beat incumbent Democrat Max Cleland 53-46. If anything, now that Chambliss is the incumbent, his numbers should improve. That's especially true in a state like Georgia. In 2004, President Bush beat John Kerry there 58-41. That same year, Republican Johnny Isakson won his Senate race 58-40.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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2008 Elections Barack Obama Saxby Chambliss R-ga.