Obama’s Coattails

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The day after election day, when it looked like Democrats were going to pick up just 15 seats in the House and five seats in the Senate (remember, Oregon and Alaska were won late), political pundits wondered if Obama had shorter coattails than the hype surrounding him would suggest.

The results from yesterday’s Senate run-off in Georgia, which Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss won by a substantial margin over Democratic challenger Jim Martin, make the case that Obama’s coattails were quite strong, at least in certain areas. Here’s MSNBC’s First Read:

Consider that during the general election, [Martin] trailed Saxby Chambliss (R) by just three percentage points, 49.8%-46.8%, with a third-party candidate garnering more than 3%. But in yesterday’s run-off, with 97% of precincts reporting, Chambliss won by 14 points, 57%-43%, preventing Democrats from obtaining a filibuster-proof 60 seats. How many House or Senate Democrats who believe they won because of Obama coattails — especially in states like Alabama, North Carolina, and Virginia — saw the run-off result and said, “Uh, oh. 2010 is going to be tough”?

Argument for Obama’s coattails: Two consecutive “wave” elections for the same party are incredibly rare, and the Democrats pulled the trick off in 2008 with Obama at the top of the ticket. Argument against Obama’s coattails: It’s possibly that both Obama and the Democratic wave in Congress were the product of the same anti-Bush and anti-Republican sentiment. Argument that it doesn’t matter: Obama has the majorities he needs to govern (for the next two years at least) and won by enough in the popular vote to declare a mandate. Coattails or no, it’s time to get to work.

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