The important thing for a pundit is to be sure of his or her opinions. There is no penalty for being sure of one thing now and sure of something else later. Until 6 p.m. ET, when the first returns came in, the analysts were certain that there would be no "message" tonight. This would be a status quo election, no big issues were galvanizing voters, nothing enormous would be decided.
But by 7:45 p.m., the effort to impeach President Clinton was "dead as a dodo," and MSNBC pundits were wondering how long it would be till enraged Republicans deposed Newt Gingrich as speaker of the House. By 9 p.m., when Chuck Schumer's New York Senate victory was announced, the evening had officially become a Democratic Rout.
The best line of the night came from Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., when some cable news anchor asked him to assess the election results so far: "When these things aren't going your way, you say, 'It's still early.' So, I guess it's still early."
In terms of seats changing hands, the Democratic victory--though remarkable--is very small. Tonight's real landslide victory belongs to two other parties. First, the Party of Virtue. It was a clean sweep for the good guys. In tight race after tight race, voters have rejected the venal and the wicked. North Carolina dumped embarrassing Sen. Lauch Faircloth in favor of John Edwards, who can't possibly be worse. Alabama dropped its ill-behaved governor Fob James. New Yorkers had the wisdom to retire their chief sleaze, Sen. Al D'Amato, in favor of Schumer, who has all D'Amato's good qualities and only half of his bad ones. Maryland re-elected a harmless mediocrity (Gov. Parris Glendening) over a holy terror (Ellen Sauerbrey). And to prove that the Party of Virtue is bipartisan, Illinois may drop ethically challenged Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun. Any one of those results constitutes a minor improvement in American politics. All of them together constitute a near miracle.
(Tonight's actual miracle: Reform Party candidate Jesse "The Body" Ventura leads in the Minnesota governor's race. America has had plenty of athlete politicians and plenty of actor politicians. Now, at last, we can have both in one package: a pro wrestler.)
The other big winner Tuesday night, oddly enough, was the Party of Vice. There is much crowing about the resurgence of the Democratic Party in the South, given Fritz Hollings' Senate victory, gubernatorial upsets in South Carolina and Alabama, and a probable gubernatorial win in Georgia. Why has this happened? Because the Democratic Party has become the Lottery Party. In Georgia, retiring Democratic Gov. Zell Miller instituted a hugely popular state lottery that has raised tens of millions of dollars for public education. Democrat Roy Barnes, who promised to continue Miller's policies, is winning the election to succeed him. In Alabama and South Carolina, the incumbent governors, Christian conservative Republicans Fob James and David Beasley, resisted efforts to start Georgia-style lotteries. They are both getting thrown out of office, defeated by Democrats running on pro-lottery platforms. Who says the lottery is a sucker's gamble?
As they do during the final week of every campaign, the Turnout Bores have hijacked the '98 election. They have persuaded most of the media that this campaign is a pudding without a theme, that there are no galvanizing issues, and that everything hinges on which party does a better job getting its core voters to the polls. (The question: Can my blacks and seniors beat your Christian conservatives?)
Never mind that every election hinges on turnout. Accept that the Turnout Bores are onto something. In fact, why not take their theory a step further? The election depends on turnout. And what, more than anything, does turnout depend on? The weather, of course.
To that end, Slate offers a real Election Day forecast, predicting the outcomes of close Senate and gubernatorial races based on the Tuesday weather map in Monday's USA Today. (Why USA Today? It does not suffer from the notorious liberal meteorological bias that afflicts the New York Times and the Washington Post.) In the interest of accuracy, Slate has updated the predictions based on USA Today's Tuesday forecast. The updated predictions appear in italics after the original predictions.