On Nov. 7, bolstered by intense opposition to the state of the Iraq War and recent scandals involving Republican members of Congress, the "Wild Democrats" (as George H.W. Bush recently dubbed them) regained control of Congress.
On Nov. 8, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld resigned.
But the watershed victories raise more questions than answers. How secure will new Congressmembers’ seats be? How will they change the complexion of an institution flushed with a red-state tinge since 1994?
Some Republicans publicly shrug off the Democratic victory, chalking it up to a pattern of incumbent party losses usually incurred during the sixth year of an administration.
Though the new Congress will have a conservative-Democratic element, the new majority party has an opportunity to reconstruct the increasingly right-wing nature of the political battlefield.
This is not the liberal Congress that followed the Nixon era. The nature of liberalism following the 1994 consolidation of Republican power is naturally hesitant, hopeful to capitalize on political dissatisfaction, but staggered by more than a decade of Republican control.
Still, the Democrats have an opportunity to drag the term "moderate" in a leftward direction.
Their victory is dizzying in scope, but the political morass that heralded it is not going anywhere. At a national level, the Democrats’ multi-pronged and seemingly incoherent takeover strategy combined vitriolic anti-war advertising with the middle-of-the-road tone that parties adopt when hoping to entice a broad voting population.
In six out of eight closely watched Senate races, candidates ran ads decrying the state of the Iraq War. Maybe this is the "wild" contingent that proves so worrisome to Bush Sr. Perhaps it is San Francisco Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, who is expected to assume the position of House Speaker in January. She supports immediate withdrawal from Iraq as the only viable solution to a failed conflict.
But many newly-elected Democrats are social conservatives whose Christian values and National Rifle Association-friendly attitudes were viewed as the best strategy for competing with the Republicans’ perceived "moral edge." North Carolina Democrat Heath Shuler, who "had rarely shown enough interest in politics to vote" (according to the New York Times) is an anti-abortion social-conservative who was sought in 2001 to run as the Republican candidate in his congressional district and declined the nomination.
Now, from its mishmash of "San Francisco liberals" and anti-abortion moralists, the Democratic Party must strive to find the most coherent voice possible.
Pulling out of Iraq without appearing to have lost the war will likely be the central issue around which Democrats are best able to unite.
As the polarization characteristic of elections ebbs and as a new Defense Secretary assumes the post, moderation is key. Most commentators view Robert Gates, Bush’s nomination for Defense Secretary, a unifying figure capable of reaching bipartisan support. Bush’s cabinet as a whole will need to achieve this reputation.