The pleasures and puzzles of Election Day 2010

Watching election night coverage on the cable networks was quite entertaining, though I don't know why dozens of people were huddled together on CNN's set. It looked like the Last Supper squared. This is the kind of thing the fabled empty suits in TV land think is a good idea. It's not, unless confusion is the goal.

Knowing the general shape of things — that the Democrats were going to be shellacked, with the only question being the extent of the shellacking — I couldn't resist looking at and listening to the gaggle of committed Obama worshipers on MSNBC either. It was a guilty pleasure.

That the agenda of their hero was to be responsible for the Democratic loss of the House of Representatives and erosion of their Senate majority was a tough pill for Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow to swallow. Their discomfiture intensified as the results poured in from across the nation.

The only chance they had to chortle was in the reporting of the defeats of tea party U.S. Senate candidates Christine O'Donnell and Sharron Angle in Delaware and Nevada, respectively.

Ms. Angle, a believer in things widely considered bizarre in these times, managed to force Nevadans to reelect Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid even though polls show him to be the most despised politician in the state. That was quite a trick.

As for Christine O'Donnell, suffice it to say that a halfway-sane electorate would be wary of someone forced to deny she was a dabbler in the dark arts. (I had thought it would be Nancy Pelosi who would be the first to say, "I am not a witch.")

It was scant comfort, though, for the MSNBC-ers as the GOP tidal wave rolled on through Middle America, sweeping away dozens of Democratic officeholders, altering the balance of power in the House to an extent not seen since 1948, and giving the Republicans control of at least a dozen of the statehouses up for grabs.

Not one incumbent Republican governor lost, but two sitting Democratic governors did.

Wednesday, President Barack Obama went before the press to answer questions more hostile than he is used to hearing. Looking like a man in the throes of gastric distress, the president wondered aloud if he had done everything he could to avoid this shotgun marriage with a GOP House.

He denied that the election results meant the American people want to repeal Obamacare but said he would be "open to modifications" suggested by Republicans. He said the huge bill packed with governmental power and money grabs could be "tweaked."

Some things change, some things don't. Maryland remains true blue, as Gov. Martin O'Malley whipped his predecessor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., in a rematch that proved to be a mismatch. What once was seen as a toss-up turned into a rout, with the Democratic incumbent getting 56 percent of the vote to Mr. Ehrlich's 42 percent.

The Ehrlich campaign never seemed to get off the ground. On this page the morning after the election, former Ehrlich press secretary and speechwriter Richard J. Cross III smartly laid out what went wrong. He identified four core mistakes by the Ehrlich team: They started too late. They were outmaneuvered on fiscal issues. They relied on old ideas. They ran on a record, not a vision.

There are some puzzling things about what so many people consider a halfhearted effort by the former governor to regain the governor's mansion. Why did he want to abandon a lucrative private life to resume a job that frustrated and stifled him the first time around? Why did he not have a campaign manager?

From Day One, the O'Malley organization was on the attack, defining Mr. Ehrlich as a tool of corporate special interests, with an income well into seven figures since he left office — the implication being that he was no longer the poor boy from Arbutus who lifted himself into prominence against all odds, but rather just another politician cashing in on his connections.

The O'Malley ads were ubiquitous and succeeded in driving down the Ehrlich approval ratings. By the time he had the money to answer, the issue was settled.

Anyway, as I've been telling you, the new leaders and the old ones who held on to their jobs are going to be confronted by a sobering reality. Real cuts in government spending are now unavoidable.

It's simple math. Forty-three percent of every dollar spent by the government is borrowed. That cannot continue, no matter how many politically influential interests are harmed by the cuts. Stand by, folks. It's going to get messy.

Ron Smith can be heard weekdays, 9 a.m. to noon, on 1090 WBAL-AM and His column appears Fridays in The Baltimore Sun. His e-mail is

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