An American election is a big operation; this week, voters not only elected two houses of congress, but voted in a huge range of state, county and local ballots across the country.

Most states also held legislative elections, and the Democrats made substantial gains there as well. According to The New York Times, they now control both houses in 23 states, against ten for the Republicans.

Perhaps most remarkable was New Hampshire, long considered Republican heartland, where the Democrats now hold both houses plus the governorship for the first time since 1874. They also took both congressional districts there; neither senator was up for re-election, but it and Maine are now the only two states anywhere in the north or midwest with two Republican senators.

Voters also considered referendum questions in many states (conveniently summarised by CNN). Bans on gay marriage were approved in several more states, including an especially stringent one in Virginia, but it was narrowly defeated in Arizona: the first state ever to vote down such a move.

The gay marriage initiatives have become a Republican tactic for prompting increased turnout in their fundamentalist base. Democrats have adopted a similar idea with ballots for minimum wage increases; they were all carried, but since there is no constituency for them as well organised as the evangelical churches, their effect on turnout is unclear.

The Republicans’ themes of racism, misogyny and homophobia still have some traction, especially in the south. The two black southern challengers in the Senate, Maryland Republican Michael Steele and Tennessee Democrat Harold Ford, were both defeated, thus preserving the south’s record of not electing a single black senator since Reconstruction.

On the other hand, the move for a blanket ban on abortion was defeated in South Dakota, and other anti-abortion measures went down in California and Oregon. And the Republican scare campaign for the House of Representatives, based on the fact that prospective Speaker Nancy Pelosi is (shock, horror!) a woman, seems to have failed miserably.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey