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Time to Clean House

Michael J. Ring

The Democratic tide is rising.

It's washing up on the sunny shores of San Diego, the muddy waters of Mobile, and even on the ferocious coast of Cape Hatteras.

The nation heard a message in these robust economic times that we can do better. We can have better schools. We need and deserve a more equitable health care system. We need a fair system of campaign finance.

Make no mistake, the victories the Democrats experienced this week are astounding. This should have been a Republican year. History teaches us that the president's party is slaughtered in the sixth year of his rule. But history did not repeat itself.

In the great state of North Carolina, voters elected a new, fresh face with new ideas. The conservative incumbent Lauch Faircloth was favored in this Republican state. But the voters realized that Faircloth was only interested in attacking his opponent as a "liberal," while John Edwards was stressing issues of such critical importance to the voters as health care. Faircloth, a symbol of the decadent, backward, old South, has been rightly extricated from the United States Senate.

Elsewhere in the South, two races where conventional wisdom would have said the Democrats should have been blown out turned into victories for the working people of Alabama and South Carolina. Even in these two bastions of conservatism, the Democratic message resonated this week. South Carolinians, disgusted with their last-place performance in the nation's schools, chose a pragmatic Democrat in Jim Hodges to lead the state. Education was also a driving force in the election of Don Siegelman as governor of Alabama.

In the Golden State, voters also chose solid education, quality healthcare, and a clean environment. Voters there returned the thoughtful Barbara Boxer to the United States Senate. And exit polls proved that on such critical issues as education, job creation, and gun control, Californians trusted Gray Davis and selected him to be their next governor.

The significance of the Democratic tide in California cannot be understated. With 54 electoral votes, California is far and away the most important state in the presidential election process. With two Democratic senators and solid Democratic leadership in Sacramento, the Golden State is well positioned to help elect a forward-minded Democratic president to lead our nation into the next century. And as California's governor, Gray Davis will have the largest hand in the redistricting of California's army of congressional seats, a redistricting that could well be worth five to ten Democratic seats on Capitol Hill.

The voters of Wisconsin have chosen to return their courageous statesman, Russell Feingold, to the United States Senate. Senator Feingold has made many enemies as a sponsor of a campaign-finance overhaul bill. In the Senate campaign, he chose to stand on principle rather than politics, choosing to unilaterally disarm and refuse political action committee money while his challenger, Mark Neumann, grabbed cash with open palms. The people of Wisconsin have made clear they want to continue the crusade for campaign-finance reform and squash the special interests. Senator Feingold will be well positioned to fight for justice in our campaigns.

But nothing was as sweet as the defeat of Alfonse D'Amato in New York. This parasite has been a blotch on the United States Senate for nearly two decades. But Charles Schumer will bring the people of the Empire State a breath of fresh, progressive leadership for the new century.

D'Amato was the most hated and reviled Republican incumbent standing in the Senate. A man whose ethics make William Marcy Tweed look like a saint and whose tongue could probably make Howard Stern cringe, D'Amato has nonetheless been slithering around for decades, riding his image of bringing home the bacon, or rather the pork, for New York. He was the undisputed Republican boss of New York, being the puppetmaster of Governor George Pataki there.

But D'Amato fell and fell hard. New York voters showed character matters, and D'Amato's integrity is quantum leaps below that of the President. The Empire State last Tuesday realized who the real "putzhead" was. Schumer's campaign said it all about D'Amato: "Too many lies for too long." There's a line of Democrats stretching from Manhattan to Albany waiting to dance on his grave. D'Amato chaired the Whitewater hearings - so you can bet your life Bill and Hillary will be queuing up for that dance.

All in all, it was a great night for the Democrats. Democrats beat the overwhelming odds for Republican pickups in both houses of Congress. With one seat still undecided at deadline, the Democrats had won 210 seats, a pickup of five. Newt Gingrich had better watch his back, because the Democrats will be breathing down his neck. In the Senate, Republican hopes of a filibuster-proof majority were dashed: There was no net change in the Senate. For a party with a sitting president to pick up seats in a midterm election, particularly given the state of Clinton's presidency, is amazing and astounding. Not since 1934 has a sitting president's party made House gains in a midterm election.

Still, though, the Republicans will hold onto both houses of Congress, and much progress remains to be done by the Democratic Party. After suffering through the Reagan Revolution of 1980 and the Gingrich Revolution of 1994, however, these election results are still a cause for great celebration. After Republican dominance for the past two decades, this week's results may mark the beginning of a Democratic resurgence. What better way to mark the beginning of a new century with a new, fresh, progressive movement.