WASHINGTON -- By midnight Tuesday, millions of conservatives probably will believe that the nation, foundering on the reefs of sin, is ruined. And millions of "progressives," emboldened to embrace truth in labeling by again calling themselves liberals, probably will have decided that Heaven is at hand, the nation revived like a flower in an April shower.
In any case, political numeracy can illuminate the hours before midnight. So as Tuesday's numbers accumulate, here are some benchmarks to bear in mind:
The House of Representatives currently has 235 Democrats and 199 Republicans; the Senate has 51 Democrats (including two independents who caucus with the Democrats) and 49 Republicans. Republican losses on Tuesday should be measured against the aftermath of two debacles a decade apart.
President Lyndon Johnson's 1964 landslide victory over Barry Goldwater produced a House with 295 Democrats and 140 Republicans, and a Senate with 68 Democrats and 32 Republicans. The 1974 post-Watergate congressional elections produced a House with 291 Democrats and 144 Republicans, and a Senate with 60 Democrats, 38 Republicans, one independent who caucused with the Democrats and one Conservative Party member who caucused with the Republicans.
Five Deep South states -- South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana -- voted for Goldwater in 1964, the first time they had gone Republican since Reconstruction, except for Louisiana's vote for Dwight Eisenhower in 1956. In 1968, they voted for a third-party candidate, George Wallace. In 1972, they voted for Richard Nixon over George McGovern. In 1976, they voted for Jimmy Carter, the Georgia Democrat, over President Gerald Ford. In 1980, Carter again carried Georgia, and averaged a healthy 47.3 percent of the votes in the other four. Since then, only two of the five have voted Democratic -- Bill Clinton carried Georgia in 1992 and Louisiana in 1992 and 1996. Since 1980, Democratic presidential candidates have averaged only 42.5 percent of the vote in the five states. Measure Barack Obama's performance there -- built upon increased turnout of African-Americans, who are 30 percent of the five states' combined populations -- against that 42.5 percent.
Mississippi has not elected a freshman Democratic senator in 61 years (John Stennis in a 1947 special election). This year, a Republican incumbent in Mississippi, Roger Wicker, is threatened by former Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove. In Georgia, Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss is threatened by Jim Martin. If either incumbent loses, the Republicans' Southern redoubt will have widening fissures.