There are two battles every election year. The first is for votes; the second -- almost as crucial -- is over the interpretation of those votes. Many a past election has been misinterpreted in the days following -- recall the "angry white male" election and the "swift boat" election. Today, we are invited to conclude that the 2006 election was a referendum on the Iraq War and the Bush presidency. Maybe. But for the sake of argument, let's consider the possibility that Iraq did not determine this election at all.
The war in Iraq was cited as an "extremely," "very" or "somewhat" important factor in the votes of 89 percent of the electorate according to exit polls. But the war on terror was cited by 92 percent of voters as important to their votes. These nearly cancel each other out, as those who cited Iraq as crucial tended to vote Democrat and those who cited terror tended to vote Republican.
Fifty-seven percent of voters said they either "strongly" or "somewhat" disapprove of the job George W. Bush is doing as president, but more (61 percent) said they disapproved of Congress. Why Congress? Other polling, conducted before Election Day, found that 75 percent of voters were concerned about political corruption.
In days before the Foley scandal erupted, support for Republican candidates was inching up. On Sept. 15, a USA Today/Gallup poll showed support for Republican and Democratic House candidates tied at 48/48. Foley resigned on Sept. 29. By Oct. 8, 59 percent of voters were leaning Democrat. Republican numbers never recovered after that.
Foley was merely the proverbial straw breaking the camel's back, of course. Corruption has been oozing and suppurating from Capitol Hill for several years. Recall that Republicans had changed their rules to permit a member of the leadership to continue to serve following an indictment. They changed it back later, but too late to undo the damage it had done to their reputations.
Rep. Tom DeLay was forced to resign when he was indicted (justly or not) and then left office under a cloud. Rep. Duke Cunningham was indicted and convicted not for borderline campaign finance finagling, but for out-and-out graft. Jack Abramoff and his buddies (which included some members of Congress like former Rep. Bob Ney and Sen. Conrad Burns, along with many movers and shakers in Republican circles) were found guilty of bilking Indian tribes and other low deceits. Abramoff's black trench coat and black hat became the symbol of Republican control.