Last week's election gave Illinois Senate President Emil Jones more bragging rights than anyone else at the Statehouse.
Jones' Democrats picked up five seats on Tuesday, giving them one more than the minimum needed for a veto-proof majority. Jones' 37 seats compare to just 22 for the Senate Republicans.
To say that the Senate Republicans are now irrelevant for at least the next two years would be putting it mildly. The Senate Republicans won't be able to stop anything, including bills for new state construction-bond programs, which require a minimum of 36 votes.
The GOP focus will likely turn to the House Republicans, who could use their continued ability to hold up a bond bill as a major bargaining chip. For the past two years, the Republicans tried to "starve" the Democrats and Governor Rod Blagojevich politically by withholding votes from a construction-bond bill. No projects, no press releases, no glowing news stories means the playing field is more level, went the logic. That obviously didn't work. Blagojevich won by nine points, the House Democrats appear to have picked up one seat, and the Democrats swept the state. A capital bill now looks likely.
While the House Republicans contemplate their future role, the finger-pointing has already begun among the Senate Republicans. Supporters of Senate GOP Leader Frank Watson point to the Democratic wave and the weakest statewide Republican ticket in memory as a big reason for their heavy losses last week.
But there is another side. Watson ousted longtime Republican state Senator Adeline Geo-Karis in the GOP primary because he worried she would lose the general election. That backfired badly when Geo-Karis got her revenge by endorsing the Democratic candidate, who won.
Watson spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in a futile attempt to defeat Democratic state Senator Deanna Demuzio, the widow of a longtime Democratic state senator. Turns out, the Demuzio name is still platinum in her southern-Illinois district, and Watson's GOP candidate was a total unknown from the wrong end of the district. Demuzio won with just under 60 percent of the vote.
Watson also spent hundreds of thousands to take out a Peoria Democratic candidate who had been handpicked by retiring state Senator George Shadid, a local icon. Shadid's endorsement of Dave Koehler was worth its weight in gold, and Koehler took almost 58 percent.
The Senate GOP leader's failure to see Democratic surges in districts such as a supposed "sure thing" contest in Will and Kane counties pitting Republican Terri Ann Wintermute against Democrat Linda Holmes has shaken some Republicans to the core.
Watson's decision to move his female candidates rightward on abortion and stem-cell research and attack all their Democratic opponents for opposing parental notification is also up for debate. Everything else, from the quality of their TV ads to their candidate recruitment to their message in general-election campaign, is fair game now.
Still, Watson took a shot and it didn't work. His candidates were outclassed by one of the most extraordinary crops of Democratic hopefuls I've ever seen fielded at any one time; the Democrats had their most successful election since Watergate; and rock star Barack Obama personally campaigned or appeared in direct mail for all the Senate Democratic hopefuls. So the Republicans are left with 22 seats, and they're now more irrelevant than an electric blanket in Baghdad. The joke going around last week was that Watson's punishment for losing so many races ought to be another two years as minority leader.
Barring something extreme such as a gubernatorial indictment (and the Republicans really ought to stop basing their political hopes on this "event"), 2008 could be yet another good Democratic year as the presidential election rolls through a solidly "blue" state. So something does have to change, even if Watson survives a possible coup attempt.
Former House Republican Leader Lee Daniels went from being on the victim end of a veto-proof majority in 1990 to the speaker's podium in four years. But Daniels had a Republican-drawn legislative district map and the '94 national GOP landslide to thank - and he still lost the majority two years later.
The Senate Republicans are dealing with a Democrat-drawn map; a dysfunctional, divided, and unpopular Republican Party; and a bunch of new Democratic freshmen who are known for innovation and hard work. It doesn't take much to figure out that the future is not all that bright for the Senate Republicans right now, no matter who is in charge.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax (a daily political newsletter) and (http://www.thecapitolfaxblog.com).