by Ralph Scharnau
Barack Obama, the nation’s first African-American President, won a second sweeping national victory on November 6. Obama’s winning electoral college vote far exceeded what many had predicted, and he also won a majority of the popular vote. None were more surprised by this outcome than Republicans. The billionaires who thought they could buy the election turned out to be big losers as organized people defeated organized money.
The elections revealed a number of historic results and reflected the nation’s changing demographic patterns. Many voters rejected Mitt Romney and the other Republican candidates as too male, too pale, and too stale.
Despite a weak economic recovery and continuing high unemployment, Obama built a rising American electorate coalition of women, African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, the young, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and bisexual) people, and unionized workers in Midwestern battleground states. Hispanics chose Obama by 71%. If Republicans continue to lose Hispanics at this rate, states like Arizona and Texas could be considered swing states in the presidential contest by 2016 or 2020. The unhinged intensity of extreme right wing anti-Obama rhetoric alienated moderate voters who supported the president’s re-election by a 16-point margin.
Democrats picked up a few seats in the House, and slightly increased their majority in the Senate. Vermont’s progressive Independent Senator, Bernie Sanders, easily won re-election. Republicans continue to control the House and hold a majority of state governorships.
Women comprised 53% of the total national vote and went for Obama by 11 points. Women account for one-third of the newly elected members of Congress where there will be more females than ever before. For the first time ever, women and minorities will be the majority of House Democrats.
The election proved to be a very good night for Democratic women. Four states elected their first female U.S. Senators: Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), the first openly lesbian senator, and Mazie Hirono (Hawaii), the first Asian-American woman and first Buddhist. Tammy Duckworth (Ill.) will become the first disabled woman in the House and Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii), the first Hindu. Senator Claire McCaskill (Mo.) won re-election along with U.S. Representatives Kirstin Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.). Meanwhile, New Hampshire will have an all-female congressional delegation, a national first.
Other Democrats also fared well. Ohio’s Sherrod Brown, Virginia’s Tim Kaine, and Connecticut’s Chris Murphy won hard fought Senate races. House Democratic newcomers include Anne McLane Kuster (N.H.), Alan Grayson (Fla.), and Mark Pocan (Wis.), a gay man. Arizona elected Kyrsten Sineman, the first openly bisexual member of Congress. The number of LGBT lawmakers on Capitol Hill now stands at seven, the most ever. Over two-thirds of the states now have at least one “out” state legislator.
Despite the media attention on Libya in the last month of the campaign, only 5% in national exit polls put foreign policy as the most important issue. And Obama won that group by about 20 points.
Both parties are poised and well-rehearsed for the coming battle over jobs, the economy, immigration reform, the role of government, taxes, spending (including defense), Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, climate change, and the fate of the debt ceiling, which will likely be reached early in 2013.
In a sense, white supremacy and male supremacy were the real losers in this election. The 2012 elections may mark a new beginning for those who continue to struggle for equality and opportunity. As a nation, we have become multihued and multicultural. Regardless of whatever else happens in his second term, Obama will be remembered as the president who gave us a more hopeful, just, and democratic vision for the United States.
Ralph Scharnau teaches U. S. history at Northeast Iowa Community College, Peosta. He holds a Ph.D. from Northern Illinois University. His publications include articles on labor history in Iowa and Dubuque. Scharnau, a peace and justice activist, writes monthly op-ed columns for the Dubuque Telegraph Herald.