The world doesn't stand still. Case in point: the Georgia runoff election last week made necessary because Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss failed, barely, to win an absolute majority on Nov. 4. In that contest, Chambliss led Democratic challenger Jim Martin by 3 percent. In the runoff, he won by 14.8 percent. Same candidates, very different result.
Does this mean there has been a major shift toward the Republican Party? By no means. But it does tell us something about the balance of enthusiasm in the days after Barack Obama's historic victory. In Georgia, the Obama campaign did a brilliant job of getting black and young voters to cast early ballots and came within 5 percent of carrying a state that had voted for George W. Bush twice by double-digit margins.
Some 3.9 million Georgians voted -- a 19 percent increase over November 2004. Undoubtedly many of these new voters were eager to cast their votes for the man who will now become America's first black president.
But that level of enthusiasm was not sustained in the more routine circumstance of choosing one of two white men to serve a six-year term in the Senate. Turnout on Dec. 2 was about 2.1 million votes (with 3 percent of precincts not reporting as this is written).
For the November contest, about one-third of early voters were black; for the December contest, it was about one-quarter. Examination of the county returns suggests that black turnout lagged far behind November except in the inner Atlanta metro area, where black political organizations have been active for several decades. Young voter turnout was, I suspect, down markedly, as well. All of which suggests that the enthusiasm that played such a large part in Obama's November victory may not be there for Democrats in elections when Obama is not on the ballot.
Other factors were in play, as well. With 58 Democrats elected to the Senate and the race in Minnesota in the recount stage, a Martin victory might have meant that Obama's party would have the 60 votes it needs to break any Republican filibuster. Many voters interviewed at the polls said they didn't want to give the Democrats all that power. Americans tend to like checks and balances, particularly if, as is the case in Georgia, most of them don't tend to favor the party that threatens to win all-out control.
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