Stunned Dems, jubilant GOP look for lessons

Americans want gutsy, unwavering leadership on the war on terrorism, judges who won’t make laws, energy independence and a government that cuts taxes and spends less of their money.

Above all, they want a president and a Congress that will lead the world and not be led by world opinion.

Those were some of the lessons an emboldened Republican Party took away from Tuesday night’s election results, as the GOP held on to the White House for another four years and padded its House and Senate majorities.
patrick g. ryan
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.): Democrats must expand base.

Calling the election “historic,” Sen. George Allen (Va.), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said voters across the country had “sent a message” to Democrats who favor “obstructionism and petty partisanship.” Allen cited former Rep. John Thune’s victory over Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle in South Dakota as Exhibit A.

Other Republicans said the 2004 election marked the culmination of the conservative revolution launched nearly a quarter-century ago with the election of Ronald Reagan to the White House.

Noting that “the Democratic Party dominated politics from the 1920s to the late ’70s,” Sean Conway, chief of staff for Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), said this election “adds fuel to the argument that the Republican Party has become the majority party.

“What it says is the Democrats still, in large portions of this country, are not reaching people. I’m talking about the South. I’m talking about suburban areas. I’m talking about the Rocky Mountain region.”

In a conference call with reporters yesterday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) seemed to accept Conway’s contention that the Democrats had become cordoned off from the vast bulk of Americans living west of the Hudson River and east of Hollywood.

Feinstein said the Democrats must expand their Western base by moving beyond the West Coast — with its liberal enclaves of yuppies, actors, artists, beachgoers and New Economy entrepreneurs — and build a more solid foundation stretching from the interior of California to Colorado.

Referring to Senate Minority Whip Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who hopes to succeed defeated Minority Leader Tom Daschle (S.D.), Feinstein said: “I’ve agreed to support Harry Reid for leader because I feel so strongly that the interests of Western states are so alike, and they are kind of built on the values of the West, historical values, practical values.”

For the most part, Democrats yesterday were stunned, wounded and, most of all, unsure of what to do next.

After a year of pounding the president on the economy, the war in Iraq, the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, the flu-vaccine shortage and anything else they could throw at him, many Democrats were convinced that the Oval Office and control of the Senate were within reach.

Some, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Rep. Bob Matsui (Calif.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, had even predicted that their party would retake the House, a goal that even many Democratic consultants considered out of reach.

On Election Day, Democrats were borderline giddy at the prospect of sending President Bush back to Texas. Sen. John Kerry’s standing in battleground-state polls, a vast get-out-the-vote operation from the Rust Belt to the Sun Belt, a huge voter turnout and early exit polls that showed Kerry beating Bush heightened their excitement.

But shortly after the polls closed, West Virginia slipped into the president’s column, then Florida and then, sometime in the middle of the night, Ohio.

One Democratic aide noted the party also failed to pick up House seats in Connecticut and Pennsylvania — key targets — meaning Democrats were unable to counter GOP gains in Texas, where redistricting cost four Democratic incumbents their jobs.

“They need to figure out what’s in their party’s electoral interest given the very clear minority position of the party,” said Sarah Binder, a political scientist and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. She added: “I don’t see them rolling over and playing dead. They have the rules of the Senate on their side. They need to pick their issue really carefully, given the Republican gains.”

But Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) said the Democratic losses reflected a “deep disconnect” with millions of Americans.

Rep. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.), who earned a mention in the history books as Florida’s secretary of state during the protracted 2000 recount, said Democrats had offered Americans nothing but “hatred and bitterness.”

But Democrats portrayed their criticism of Bush as an impassioned, and thoughtful, refutation of the president’s foreign policy, especially the Iraq war, as well as a plea, they said, for a more humane domestic policy.

Vice-presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) made that clear as he introduced Kerry for his concession speech in Boston yesterday, declaring that the “fight rages on.”

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