YES! Weekly’s ten best 2006 election surprises

by Jordan Green

Ted Haggard’s crystal meth-fueled homosexual affair

Perhaps it should have been considered an omen when, on the Saturday before Election Day, extensive and salacious stories splashed across the inside pages of a national newspaper reporting that the president of the National Association of Evangelicals had purchased crystal meth and had been involved with a male escort. Pastor Ted Haggard admitted to purchasing the drugs and receiving a massage from escort Mike Jones, but denied getting high or having sex with Jones. Right. And if that were true, we have to ask why the pastor didn’t just go ahead and enjoy the speed and sex seeing as how he was going to lose his presidency and the leadership of his 14,000-member Colorado mega-church anyway.

Dan Rather’s coverage for Comedy Central

It was either postmodern inversion or sweet revenge when the Texas news anchor with the stentorian delivery joined Jon Stewart on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” two years after being removed from his desk at CBS News, a consequence of his report on President Bush’s National Guard service in the weeks before the 2004 election turning out to be based on forged documents. Rather’s election-night commentary included a Pink Floydism (“If you don’t eat your meat you can’t have any pudding. How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?”) and he ended with a cryptic assessment of his journalism career (“It was a real eye opener for me. I realized early on I was just a four-dollar gopher in a two-dollar pelt.”)

John Yarmuth’s congressional win in Kentucky

The founder of the Louisville Eccentric Observer may be the first former alternative-weekly publisher to earn the title “congressman.” Now a columnist for the paper, Yarmuth took a leave of absence to campaign. Republican Anne Northup won her last race for Kentucky’s 3rd congressional district, which covers Jefferson County, by a solid 60.3 percent in 2004. Voters in the generally liberal gateway city to the South were apparently in a different mood this time around, giving Yarmuth 50.6 percent of the vote.

Approval of stem-cell research referendum in Missouri

Missouri is considered a bellwether state – part of the liberal Midwest, but also a former slave-holding state in the buckle of the Bible belt – so many pundits would hesitate to predict that Missourians would approve a referendum allowing stem-cell research. It was a narrow victory -‘ 51.2 percent – but with actor and Parkinson’s disease sufferer Michael J. Fox on their side, even the anti-initiative forces of St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Jeff Suppan and Passion of the Christ star Jim Caviezel could not defeat them.

Approval of minimum wage increases across the country

Citizens of the Show-Me State (as in “show me the money”) also approved a minimum wage increase. In this case, thanks to liberal momentum and a wedge of lower-income conservative voters who demonstrated enlightened self interest, supporters of the initiative outnumbered opponents three to one. Voters in Montana, Ohio, Nevada and Arizona also gave approval to minimum wage initiatives. It’s hard to find a state with a minimum wage initiative where voters didn’t want it. We hear that even the US Congress is talking about passing one now.

Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation

Little late, guys. The Army Times and many of its sister military publications called for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation on election eve, but President Bush continued to maintain obstinacy in the face of criticism of the embattled manager of the Iraq war. The week prior, United Press International had quoted Bush as saying of Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney, “Both those men are doing fantastic jobs and I strongly support them.” Bush’s later acknowledgement that he and Rumsfeld had already agreed on the defense secretary’s resignation before the election results were tallied reportedly infuriated some moderate Republicans who lost congressional seats. Bush’s explanation for his timing? “He, himself, understands that Iraq is not working well enough, fast enough. And he and I are constantly assessing. And I’m assessing, as well, all the time, by myself, about, do we have the right people in the right place, or do we – got the right strategy? As you know, we’re constantly changing tactics.”

A photo finish in the Virginia Senate race

As if the busted voting machine in Greensboro’s 70th precinct wasn’t enough excitement, after midnight the televised national coverage showed that the Missouri, Montana, Virginia and Tennessee Senate races remained too close to call. If the Democrats won three out of four they would take control of the Senate. It wasn’t long before Tennessee was called for Republican Bob Corker, and in short order Missouri ended up in the Democrats column. Not until the next day did a sleepless Democrat Jon Tester declare victory in Montana. At first it seemed likely that the country would be dragged through a lengthy recount process manipulated by lawyered-up partisan campaigns reminiscent of 2000, but then two days after the election Republican George Allen conceded with unofficial returns showing him losing to Democrat Jim Webb by less than 1 percent.

Democratic control of Senate

According to columnist Molly Ivins, gloating is tacky behavior best avoided by Democrats. At risk of appearing too smug, it seems worthwhile to point out one additional pertinent fact: Democrats picked up six seats formerly held by Republicans. The GOP picked up exactly none. That’s not a net gain of six seats. That’s six-seat gain. Period. After the humiliating elections of 2004 and 2002 when Democrats couldn’t seem to win anything – and especially considering most of the Democratic Party’s base believes that American elections are rigged anyway – it seemed an unbelievable outcome. And yet, the Dems can thank liberal voters in northern Virginia and an island of Virginia Tech faculty in Blacksburg – and maybe Allen’s “macaca” gaffe – for delivering the Senate.

Democratic control of the House

Decisive gains in the House races were considered a given. Still, the results were more dramatic than expected, with Democrats picking up 28 seats pure and simple, again, with no Republican gains offsetting the total, none of this “net gain” business. Victorious Democrats replaced JD Hayworth, a foe of illegal immigration in Arizona; Richard Pombo, a California congressman tied to indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff; and North Carolina’s Charles Taylor, among others.

Michael Savage’s declared support for a national minimum wage increase

As if all that were not strange enough, conservative radio host Michael Savage, author of such titles as The Enemy Within and Liberalism Is a Mental Disorder, took to the airwaves on Nov. 8 and declared his support for a minimum wage increase, chiding wealthy conservatives for not sympathizing enough with the plight of the common man. Don’t worry – he’s still posting scary pictures of Nancy Pelosi on his website.