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Decision 2006: Behind the numbers

When the new Congress convenes in January, there will be a number of historic firsts. But look a little deeper in the returns, and some less obvious trends emerge.
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When the new Congress convenes in January, there will be a number of historic firsts:

The House will have a new leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and she will be the first female speaker in the nation’s history.

It will also have the first Muslim to be elected to Congress — Democrat Keith Ellison of Minnesota.

And the Senate will have its first avowed socialist — independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

But look a little deeper in the returns, and some less obvious trends emerge.

The year of the woman
In addition to Pelosi’s taking the reins as the most powerful woman in U.S. history, the Senate will boast a record number of women — 16.

All six female senators up for re-election won: Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y.; Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.; Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas; Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.; Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine. Add two new women — Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. — and you get eight, joining eight others who weren’t on Tuesday’s ballots.

Florida, take 2
The Democrats may have been awarded a victory in Virginia, and with it control of the Senate, but the margin is so small that a recount is possible. If that happens, we could be wallowing in reminders of the weeks-long wrangle in Florida that ultimately decided the 2000 presidential race.

Democrat Jim Webb was leading Republican Sen. George Allen by a few thousand out of more than 2.3 million votes. Allen can request a recount if the margin is less than 1 percent ... and under Virginia law, that could happen as late as Dec. 7.

(Not counting, of course, any court challenges. For those of you who were paying attention, that was indeed Ben Ginsberg, lawyer for Bush-Cheney 2000, harrumphing about Virginia on MSNBC-TV late Tuesday night.)

Along the way, we will be treated to the spectacle of officials in all 134 local election districts reviewing, by hand, each provisional ballot, one by one.

And then there’s this potential risk: As long as the margin is less than 0.5 percent, the state pays for the recount. But if the margin’s between 0.5 percent and 1 percent, the loser has to pay.

No longer unique
Doug Wilder of Virginia lost his claim to being the only black elected governor in U.S. history when Massachusetts elected Democrat Deval Patrick to succeed Republican Mitt Romney, who is retiring. Patrick was head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division during the Clinton administration.

Two other black candidates were on governor’s ballots, but Republican Lynn Swann lost in Pennsylvania, as did Republican Kenneth Blackwell in Ohio.

Still unique
Barack Obama, D-Ill., however, remains the only black senator.

Republican Lt. Gov. Michael Steele mounted a strong challenge in Maryland, as did Democratic Rep. Harold Ford Jr. in Tennessee. But in the end, both lost.

Ohio discovers Democrats
It took a massive backlash against Republican ethical missteps, but Democrats broke through in Ohio, where Gov.-elect Ted Strickland became the first Democrat to be elected to statewide office in 14 years.

The last time that happened was in 1992, when John Glenn won re-election to the Senate.

Hut, hut
Democrat Heath Shuler defeated veteran Republican Rep. Charles Taylor in North Carolina. Shuler’s claim to fame is that he was a star quarterback at the University of Tennessee who crashed and burned in the National Football League.

Voters refused to complete the pass, however, defeating Hall of Fame wide receiver Swann in Pennsylvania.

Lingle, Dingell, Otter and Space
It’s not one of the law firms that could pop up in Virginia.

Republican Linda Lingle was elected governor of Hawaii. Democratic Rep. John Dingell was re-elected in Michigan. Republican Rep. C.L. “Butch” Otter was elected governor of Idaho. And Democrat Zack Space was elected to succeed convicted Rep. Bob Ney in Ohio.