No excessive celebrations, Democrats

In a prior column, I bemoaned the decline of the election-night etiquette when it comes to concession, so let me “do as I say” by congratulating my Democrat counterpart — Mark Mellman — here in the pages of The Hill. Democrats ran a smart and well-financed campaign. Kudos are also in order for Democrat strategists like Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) for recruiting an outstanding class of candidates whose resumes and personal appeal were often decisive factors in Democratic victories.

In a prior column, I bemoaned the decline of the election-night etiquette when it comes to concession, so let me “do as I say” by congratulating my Democrat counterpart — Mark Mellman — here in the pages of The Hill. Democrats ran a smart and well-financed campaign. Kudos are also in order for Democrat strategists like Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) for recruiting an outstanding class of candidates whose resumes and personal appeal were often decisive factors in Democratic victories.

But before the referees give the Democrats a 15-yard penalty for a Terrell Owens-like “excessive celebration” in the end zone, let’s remind them of the limits of their victory. Tempering their enthusiasm for their accomplishments may benefit everyone.

First, we must be clear that yesterday’s election wasn’t the equivalent of a presidential election or national referendum on a single topic. Local issues and candidacies played a crucial role in the outcome. So Democrats best be careful if they think this election represents endorsement of a broad liberal agenda.

Take Iraq, for example, which no doubt played a prominent role in the results. In the pre-election polls conducted by my firm, the public was not endorsing a policy of “cut and run,” but rather increasingly expressing a sentiment that might best be characterized as “do the job right and then be done.” Daily Kos-niacs notwithstanding, most Americans are still willing to fight hard and stay in Iraq — if they sense that we are actively killing terrorists and making real progress. Instead, a growing number of voters appear to sense that our best and brightest are simply being asked to ride around in Humvees and get blown up, two or three at a time. The American public loves its children too much to “get used” to this and accept it unquestioningly, but that doesn’t mean they think the solution is a Ned Lamont-style retreat. I think Connecticut settled that.

Drape-measuring, soon-to-be committee chairmen such as Henry Waxman and John Conyers would also do well to remember just how enamored the American public was with never-ending investigations of the Clinton White House — but they probably won’t.

In fact, Democrats tempted to think that the problems of congressional Republicans signal a wholesale shift in politics would be wise to consider the outcomes of two huge states’ gubernatorial races. In California and Florida, bookends for the nation, Republican candidates untouched by Washington politics, swept to massive victories. Democrats are not the only insiders who should ponder those states. In the weeks ahead, the GOP brainiacs in D.C. might look into those outside the beltway victories for some insight on winning elections.

I would also remind the most liberal Democrats that their party was successful in capturing governor’s mansions in two key states —Pennsylvania and Colorado — by putting forward pro-life candidates. In Michigan, a Democratic senator and governor were reelected by commanding margins — and a ban on affirmative action was approved, 58-42. Eight states passed gay-marriage bans; nine approved restrictions on eminent domain powers. Lefty ballot measures occasionally won too, but clearly most of America has not decided to come out of Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco closet of political liberalism.

Democrats should also temper their joy with the sobering thought that President Bush has proven to be adept in dealing with strong Democratic legislative leaders. As governor, Bush worked well with a Democratic lieutenant governor, Bob Bullock, and House Speaker, Pete Laney. Bush seemed to thrive working out deals with these Democrats. Just as Bill Clinton craftily worked a few deals with Newt Gingrich in the aftermath of the 1994 election, expect Bush to move quickly on immigration or some other issue for a “bi-partisan” accomplishment. The president’s brief remarks in Wednesday indicated he’s looking for the right opportunity to find “common ground” and “change the tone.”

Hill is director of Hill Research Consultants, a Texas-based firm that has polled for GOP candidates and causes since 1988.