Americans, for the most part, have focused attention on the presidential race, but a lot's happening in other spheres of the political solar system. In the long run, the results of congressional and state races could make more of a difference to the future of the nation than the outcome of the Obama-Romney presidential contest.
If you have any doubt, look at what happened in 2010. The off-year election turned American politics on its head, and this year's non-presidential contests also could have a huge impact.
The 2010 race gave rise to the tea party, which was as much a reaction to the spending binge and incompetence of the Bush administration as it was to the deficiencies of the Obama-Reid-Pelosi triumvirate. A "throw the bums out" mentality swept through the nation, and voters followed up with a vengeance, electing politicians who promised to break with the cronyism and ruinous spending policies of the past.
The U.S. House of Representatives saw a 64-seat switch between Democrats and Republicans, giving the GOP the majority it needed to put the brakes on the leftward surge of the Obama administration. The election marked the biggest shift in the makeup of the House since 1946.
South Florida's District 22 was among the seats that changed hands. In 2006, Democrat Ron Klein defeated 26-year House veteran E. Clay Shaw, but four years later conservative Republican Allen West handily defeated Klein.
In the U.S. Senate, six seats changed from Democrat to Republican, the biggest shift since 1994. Florida's open Senate seat remained in Republican hands, but it went to conservative Marco Rubio rather than to former Gov. Charlie Crist, a centrist Republican who lost to Rubio in the primary.
In state governments, a seismic GOP triumph resulted in Republicans picking up a net 680 legislative seats nationwide. Before the election, Democrats controlled 27 state legislatures and Republicans 14, with the rest divided between the parties, save for Nebraska with a non-partisan, unicameral legislature.
After the election, Republicans controlled 25 legislatures, and Democrats only sixteen. The GOP hasn't controlled that many since before the Great Depression. The GOP also had a net gain of seven governorships, giving it a lead in this category of 29-20-1.
Currently, Republicans control the governorship and both houses of the legislature in 20 states, the Democrats in only 11. This gave Republicans a huge gerrymandering advantage in the recent redistricting wars. It also has enabled some state governments, most notably Wisconsin's, to effectively battle public employee unions and bring fiscal sanity to state budgets.
Whenever there's a huge partisan victory such as the Republican one in 2010, there's usually a shift back toward equilibrium two years later. Democrats must register a net gain of 25 seats to recapture control of the House of Representatives, but don't expect that to happen. If the GOP can limit its losses to 10 or less, it would amount to a GOP success.
Florida's District 18 race will be especially telling. After redistricting that hurt his re-election chances, West decided to move up the coast to this district. If the controversial Republican defeats Democrat Patrick Murphy, he'll demonstrate the conservative brand has staying power. The same goes for District 22, where Republican Adam Hasner is facing off against liberal Democrat Lois Frankel.
A while back, it seemed all but certain Republicans would capture control of the U.S. Senate, since Democrats would be defending 23 seats to the Republicans' 10. Today, the GOP's chances of winning control of the Senate are probably no more than 50-50. Just as they did two years ago, voters in a a few Republican primaries chose less-than-credible candidates to contest races that should have been GOP shoo-ins..
Control of the Senate will be critical in determining the direction of the nation during the next four years, regardless of who sits in the Oval Office.
Kingsley Guy's column appears every other Sunday. Email him at Harborlite3@bellsouth.net.