The political landscape suffered a major earthquake in 2010. But what do all the numbers, maps and goofy protest signs mean for the advance of LGBT equality? We’ve compiled a list of the election season’s biggest winners and losers to help you slog through the repercussions of the voters’ verdicts—and perhaps predict the political course for 2011.
THE GOOD: LGBT Candidates Keep Their Seats And Chalk Up Wins
A record 123 openly gay candidates were on the ballot in elections across the country this year, and many of them emerged victorious in their local and state races. The three gay incumbents in Congress—Representatives Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) retained their seats. Former Providence, R.I. mayor David Cicilline won his race and became Congress’ fourth openly gay member.
Though this record shows that all openly gay incumbents were successful in their reelections, LGBT advocates might lament the loss of Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy of Penn-sylvania. Although not gay, the Iraq War veteran was key proponent behind efforts to repeal the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
THE BAD: Democratic Incumbents Ousted
Virtually every incumbent who went down on Nov. 2 was a Democrat, from Blue Dog Reps. Baron Hill (Ind.) and Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin (S.D.) to progressive Sen. Russ Feingold (Wis.) and Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (Ohio). Exit polls showed that voters were intensely worried about the state of the economy, frustrated with the federal government and didn’t hold a favorable view of either party. As the party in power, however, Democrats faced most of the voters’ wrath.
THE UGLY: Wall Street Still Wields Influence
Wall Street invested heavily in Republicans, shifting its support away from Democrats after the party passed financial reform legislation. “Wall Street-related contributions took a dramatic shift towards the Republicans since the beginning of this year and it is no irony that financial regulatory reform was heating up at the same time,” said Dave Levinthal of the Center for Responsive Politics. Many of the top recipients of Wall Street dollars won their races, including Ohio Republican Rob Portman and New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand. On the plus side, Gillibrand has pushed for DADT repeal and supports same-sex marriage.
THE GOOD: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Comes Out Fighting—Against All Odds
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) showed his true fighting spirit in this election, knocking down Republican Tea Party darling and anti-gay poster girl Sharron Angle for a victory. According to the Sunlight Foundation, more than $7 million in outside spending poured into the race to oppose him, compared to just over $1 million to support him.
THE BAD: Progressives Lose Big
True-blue progressives were hit especially hard in this election, with many of the movement’s heroes losing their seats—and that could bode ill for the expansion of LGBT equality. Tom Periello (D-Va.) was a lone progressive voice in a rural Republican stronghold; Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.) and Mary Jo Kilroy (D-Ohio) represented crucial swing districts. Outgoing Dem Alan Grayson of Florida supported the federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which extended protections to LGBT people; and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Dem candidate Joe Sestak lost a contentious race for Alan Specter’s seat to former Rep. Pat Toomey, who has voted for the Federal Marriage Amendment (banning same-sex marriage in the U.S.), opposed numerous measures to slow global warming, and received a 100 percent lifetime rating from the National Right to Life Committee.
THE UGLY: Sarah Palin, Kingmaker
Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin stormed the midterm elections—without running in any race. Following up on a mediocre primary season performance, Palin helped deliver a number of huge victories for Republicans on Election Day. Though Palin’s endorsement did not prove powerful enough to help controversy-prone Tea Party Senate favorites such as Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell, West Virginia’s John Raese, Colorado’s Tom Tancredo and Nevada’s Sharron Angle, many of her House and gubernatorial endorsees performed strongly, aiding Republicans in their successful reclaim of the House and big gains in the governorships. Though she remains mum on her future political plans—even as the 2012 election looms—Palin isn’t going away anytime soon.