Its the biggest political spectacle on the planet, and it only comes around once every four years, so I couldn't let the US elections pass by without a final blog post. There are three things I'm looking out for as the action unfolds this evening, outcomes which will largely set the tone of US politics over the next 2-4 years.
Firstly: which man wins the presidency. There are plenty of good reasons to back Obama, so I won't go into them here.
Secondly: the extent of (Obama's) victory. If McCain wins, he'll win narrowly and the bitterness which plagued the Bush years will be with us for four more. A narrow Obama win risks the same outcome. But if the Democrat can make signicant inroads in the south and west - if he can take Colarado, North Carolina, or even Georgia - then he will have a mandate to rule from beyond the liberal coasts, which will oblige the the Republican party in the short term to rapidly come to terms with a Democrat as President and in the longer term to build a policy platform broader than social conservatism. A healthy US political system needs a healthy Republican party, and a healthy Republican party needs time to heal without the distraction of believing itself a mere whisker away from the Presidency. An Obama landslide would give it the incentive and oppotunity to do so.
Thirdly: how many Democratic senators will the next congress have. The magic number is of course 60: a filibuster-proof majority. The Democrats are unlikely to get there, but if they can get to 58, they can count on 2 independents to vote with them on most issues to overrule any de facto Republican veto. If they can get to 56 or 57 - well within their grasp - Obama can appoint one or two moderate Republicans in states governed by a Democrat, who then appoints a new senator to fill the vacancy, and we're back up to 60 again.
But would 60 Democratic senators be a good thing? Parties with untrammelled power tend to play to the worst excesses of their bases; expect hostility to trade and union pandering if the Democrats get there. But the other option is two more years of a blocking Republican minority, able to filibuster bills to death and create legislative gridlock which will rapidly, and unfairly, tarnish Obama's credibility and whittle away Democratic support. The Republicans have shown over the past 2 years that they cannot be trusted with even the limited constitutional powers granted to the narrow minority. Its time to give the Democrats the power to overrule them; the closer they get to 60, the better.