GOP seizes House, makes Senate gains

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Newly elected U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. – Photo: Gage Skidmore

Jerry Brown

Gov.-elect Jerry Brown of California (right). – Photo: Courtesy

Sharron Angle

The Tea Party’s anti-gay Sharron Angle. – Photo: Courtesy

When maps are redrawn, often either a coup or a disaster are involved.

And maps were redrawn Nov. 2, with voters giving the Republican Party the majority in the U.S. House and awarding gains to the GOP in the U.S. Senate and governors’ mansions.

The morning after, the GOP’s top leaders refrained from claiming a coup and Democratic leaders denied a political disaster. But activists with the populist conservative Tea Party trumpeted a revolutionary victory and activists with left-leaning movements, from LGBT civil rights advocates to environmental reformists, warned of possible disaster in 2011.

LGBT activists said the midterm message meant that significant civil rights legislation, specifically the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy banning gays from serving openly in the Armed Forces, must be passed during the lame-duck session of Congress.

Going into Election Day, it seemed the only certainty in national politics was that Barack Obama would continue to occupy the White House – but that’s because he isn’t running again until 2012.

The entire U.S. House was up for grabs, as well as 37 U.S. Senate seats. Numerous hotly contested seats in state legislatures and 37 governorships also were on ballots.

With some races still undecided as WiG went to press Nov. 3, the Senate was projected to have 51 Democrats and 47 Republicans. The GOP picked up at least six seats, including in Illinois, where Republican Mark Kirk was the projected winner in the race for Barack Obama’s old seat.

For the U.S. House, projections showed Democrats with 185 seats and Republicans with 239 seats. One Election Day loss was that of U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D, a champion of the DADT repeal effort. At deadline, 11 House seats remained undecided.

“The past four years of Democratic leadership stopped anti-equality lawmakers from being able to move the most damaging legislation and amendments forward,” said Joe Solmonese of the Human Rights Campaign. “However, the 110th and 111th Congresses did not hold pro-equality majorities on every issue. The 112th Congress will prove even more challenging in rounding up the votes needed to advance pro-LGBT legislation.”

LGBT leaders emphasized that though some incumbent allies struggled and lost at the polls, equality-minded candidates in races against vociferous anti-gay candidates did fairly well, suggesting that anti-gay rhetoric repels voters.

Additionally, of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund’s 164 endorsed LGBT candidates, 106 won, including David Cicilline, who in January will be the newest out member of Congress.

“There is no sugar-coating the loss of so many of our straight allies in Congress, but we can be proud that our community continues to expand its voice at all levels of government in America,” said Victory Fund president Chuck Wolfe. “Out public officials are having a sizable impact on the local, state and national debates about LGBT equality. Increasing their numbers is a vital part of a longterm strategy to change America’s politics and make our country freer and fairer for everyone.”

Key federal races

In California, longtime ally Barbara Boxer, D, held her U.S. Senate seat against a challenge from Carly Fiorina, who was backed by the National Organization for Marriage.

In Florida, Republican Marco Rubio won the race for U.S. Senate, defeating Democrat Kendrick Meek and Charlie Crist, the state’s outgoing governor who, mid-campaign, abandoned the Republican Party to run as an independent.

Rubio, with 90 percent of precincts reporting, had 49 percent of the vote, followed by Crist with 30 percent and Meek with 20 percent.

The race was full of controversy for the Sunshine State and captured national attention in its final days, with claims and counter-claims that the Democratic leadership and Crist tried to encourage Meek to bow out and deliver his votes to the governor.

Meek carried the endorsement of HRC and other LGBT groups, but Crist strengthened his support from the community with his opposition to the now defunct gay adoption ban and the release of an LGBT position paper that Equality Florida called the most progressive of any Florida governor.

Rubio, a charismatic Cuban-American and Tea Party darling, is considered a potential candidate for vice president or president.

In Nevada, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D, deflected a challenge from Republican Sharron Angle. Reid, with 99 percent of precincts counted, had 50 percent of the vote.

In the final weeks of the campaign, the LGBT group Working Families Win went door to door for Reid, who, not without criticism from the community on strategy, has steered the effort to repeal DADT in the Senate.

WFW estimated that with 250,000 LGBT citizens in the Las Vegas area, the community’s vote could make or break the Senate race.

“Voting is the doorway to greater dignity and justice,” said WFW campaigner Jane Heenan.

In the states…

In California, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman spent a fortune on her gubernatorial campaign but couldn’t sell her candidacy to a majority of voters. The Republican, who had the backing of the National Organization for Marriage and who voted for the constitutional amendment against marriage equality, lost her gubernatorial bid to Democrat Jerry Brown, who as attorney general refused to defend in court the anti-gay amendment known as Proposition 8.

Brown had 54 percent of the vote, with 71 percent of precincts counted Nov. 3.

In Florida, pro-equality candidate Alex Sink, a Democrat, trailed GOP candidate Rick Scott in the race to succeed Crist as governor. Sink had 48 percent of the vote to Scott’s 49 percent with 89 percent of the precincts counted when she conceded mid-morning Nov. 3.

In Maine, LGBT activists were hoping for the election of a Democratic governor – candidate Libby Mitchell had promised to work to restore the marriage equality measure repealed by voters. But with 93 percent of precincts reporting, Mitchell had 19 percent of the vote, a distant third in the race with Republican Paul LePage and Independent Eliot Cutler, who, at press time, were running just a percentage point apart.

In New Hampshire, NOM failed in its campaign to unseat incumbent Gov. John Lynch, D, for supporting the legalization of marriage for gay couples. Lynch defeated Republican John Stephen 52 percent to 46 percent.

Lynch’s victory was said to be significant symbolically, as well as vital for protecting marriage equality in the state – three repeal bills already have been filed for 2011.

In New York, Democrat Andrew Cuomo defeated Republican Carl Paladino in the race for governor. Paladino, in the final month of the campaign, had what LGBT activists characterized as a homophobic meltdown and publicly denounced gays as sick perverts.

Several New York legislative candidates with strong backing from HRC also won their elections on Tuesday, leading activists in the state to predict that 2011 might be the year lawmakers legalize marriage for gays and lesbians.

“The focus will move from the ballot box to the state capitol,” said HRC’s Solmonese.

The midterm ballots contained no questions related to marriage or adoption, but voters in Arizona faced a push to legalize medical marijuana – at press time the results were 50/50. In South Dakota, voters defeated a medical marijuana measure 63 percent to 37 percent.