From throwback battles over teaching evolution to staring down their all-GOP delegation in Congress, Oklahoma progressives have had little to celebrate in recent years. But since November 7, some Tulsa-area activists have a spring in their step, thanks to Democrat Brad Carson's win in the 2nd Congressional District. A moderate and member of the nearby Cherokee Nation, Carson supports campaign finance reform and, most importantly, gives Sooner State liberals a likable face and sensible voice to respond to their concerns on Capitol Hill.

Carson's win, replacing anti-gay and anti-abortion standard-bearer Tom Coburn, comes as Democrats made gains in both chambers and inched closer to reclaiming the majority status that Republicans snatched from them in the 1994 elections. Buoyed by an upsurge in union household voters over 1996, Democrats gained at least three Senate seats and two House seats in the 107th Congress.

However, third-party challengers from the left apparently helped preserve a narrow, 11-member GOP edge in the House. Besides the venom aimed at presidential candidate Ralph Nader, some lefties are upset at the cast of spoilers who helped Dennis Hastert retain his speaker's gavel. A Green Party bid by Bonnie Bucqueroux cost Democrat Dianne Byrum a House seat in central Michigan. In New Mexico's 1st District, Democrat John Kelly lost to incumbent Heather Wilson by a margin just beyond the total nabbed by Green candidate Dan Kerlinsky. Fellow Green Jerry Coleman in New Jersey appears to have kept Democrat Maryanne Connelly out of Congress. And New Jersey Rep. Rush Holt is hoping a recount will put him over the top against former GOP Rep. Dick Zimmer, who saw Carl Mayer's Green challenge take away votes from the incumbent.

Other notable House outcomes include wins in California--by Hilda Solis, Susan Davis, Adam Schiff, Mike Honda, and the returning Jane Harman--as well as victories by Minnesota's Betty McCollum and Washington's Rick Larsen. Democrats also broke back into the Utah delegation with a win by Jim Matheson, who overcame appeals to anti-gay animus by the National Republican Campaign Committee to win a seat representing Salt Lake City. On Long Island, Steve Israel took the seat left open by Rick Lazio when he ran unsuccessfully for Senate.

In addition to Hillary Rodham Clinton's victory in New York, Senate winners applauded by progressives include Minnesota's Mark Dayton, Michigan's Debbie Stabenow and Florida's Bill Nelson. At press time, the race between Maria Cantwell and Slade Gorton, the GOP incumbent from Washington and nemesis to American Indian interests, still remained too close to call. But if Cantwell, who trails in the latest tallies, prevails, Democrats are relishing a 50-50 split in the new Senate.

Progressives can take heart that get-out-the-vote efforts headed by African Americans, Latinos and labor leaders more than offset Republicans' $100 million targeted turnout gambit called Victory 2000. Voters from union households accounted for 26 percent of the electorate, according to post-election briefings by the AFL-CIO, an increase from the 23 percent mark in the last general election. The high level of union participation reflects turnout drives that blended high-tech phonebanks with old-fashioned door-knocking. In a move that could add momentum to campaigns for a nationwide workers' holiday on Election Day, United Auto Workers members in Michigan enjoyed November 7 as a day off as a stipulation of their contracts. Born of collective bargaining, this small coup contributed to the 44 percent of the state's electorate who hailed from union households.

Democrats have maneuvered into spitting distance of a majority. But having lost their bid to retake Congress, the party may have lost some momentum on the Hill looking toward 2002, especially since some aging stalwarts could retire. If their would-be successors don't manage to dissuade third-party insurgents from fragmenting the progressive base on Election Day, Democrats dream of a majority may indeed be deferred.

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