This doesn’t exactly come as a surprise, since the Republicans only have 42 seats in the lame-duck Senate and most of the anti-earmark caucus won’t take their seats until January.  Still, the final vote on the proposed earmark ban was the closest reformers have come to victory, and it may be a harbinger of better days ahead:

The Senate Tuesday rejected a GOP bid to ban the practice of larding spending bills with earmarks — those pet projects that lawmakers love to send home to their states.

Most Democrats and a handful of Republicans combined to defeat the effort, which would have effectively forbidden the Senate from considering legislation containing earmarks like road and bridge projects, community development funding, grants to local police departments and special-interest tax breaks.

The 39-[56] tally, however, was a better showing for earmark opponents, who lost a 29-68 vote earlier this year. Any votes next year should be closer because a band of anti-earmark Republicans is joining the Senate.

Seven Democrats crossed over, including the outgoing Evan Bayh, both Colorado Senators Bennet and Udall, Russ Feingold, Mark Warner, Claire McCaskill, and Bill Nelson, the latter two of which will face voters in 2012.  Interestingly, Ben Nelson of Nebraska voted against the earmark ban, as did Mark Pryor of Arkansas, both of whom will face huge challenges in getting re-elected in 2012.  They don’t seem particularly concerned with voter sentiment after the midterm elections, but expect that to change soon.

Eight Republicans voted against the ban, mainly the usual suspects.  Bob Bennett of Utah showed why voters were smart to go with Mike Lee in the primary. Jim Inhofe has publicly defended Congressional privilege, so his Nay was expected, as was that of Lisa Murkowski, Thad Cochran, George Voinovich, Susan Collins, and Richard Shelby.  Dick Lugar voted against it too, just after complaining that he didn’t get enough respect from Tea Party conservatives; he can expect that to be a sore point in his re-election bid.  Olympia Snowe was smarter — she will face a primary challenge and voted for the earmark ban to bolster her own center-right credentials.

The closer we get to 2011, the closer this vote will also get, and not just because the GOP has added six new Senate seats to their tally.  The people running for re-election will discover that reformers mean what they say, and that those who want business as usual will have to start looking for a new business forthwith.

Update: The tally was 39-56, not 39-65, as was mistakenly reported by the AP and Fox.  Here’s the Senate roll-call vote listing.