- 10 Nov 06, 05:06 PM
There was frustration with Iraq and concern about corruption - but you could argue that the real clincher for the Democrats, in the Senate at least, was the presence of mind of a young American of Indian descent.
When Virginia’s (now outgoing) Republican Senator George Allen turned his gaze towards 20-year-old S R Siddarth - a “tracker”, filming the Allen campaign for his Democratic rival, Jim Webb - and referred to him as “macaca”, a type of monkey, it turned the campaign on its head.
The footage of the incident became a YouTube phenomenon and Senator Allen was accused - not for the first time - of casual racism.
He may have been able to shrug it off, were it not for his status as a potential presidential candidate and the awkward way he handled the later revelations of his Jewish heritage.
In a few short weeks, the senator went from being a shoo-in to getting booted out of office.
For their part, the Allen camp tried to portray their opponent Jim Webb as a sexist; using comments he’d made about women when he was in the Navy and passages from his novels as evidence. But it didn’t work.
A majority of Virginia’s women voters supported Jim Webb. And so - crucially, as it turned out - did a majority of independents. Six years ago, they’d largely swung towards George Allen.
What role the macaca moment played in all of this is hard to judge, but it was a reminder that race is still a politically volatile issue here. And - in the contest which finally deprived the Republicans of their Senate majority - it may have even been a decisive one.
Jamie Coomarasamy is a Washington correspondent for BBC News.
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