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Looking beyond 2004

By Bruce Walker
web posted January 12, 2004

Democrats missed a marvelous opportunity in this election cycle to restore the perception of decency and moderate liberalism to their party. Howard Dean is obviously not moderate, nor does he claim to be; he is also mean and vicious, and he seems to relish that role.

Dean is almost certain to be nominated and Democrats or to cause such a rift in the Democrat Party that it will face a clear defeat in the 2004 presidential and congressional contests. Dean is having trouble even unifying his minority party, much less appealing to the majority Republican Party.

The Texas redistricting decision, along with another flipped Blue Dog Democrat, means that Republicans will gain seats in the House of Representatives and, because of the power of incumbency and the configuration of so many safe districts, Republicans will control the House through the next four general elections.

Mel Martinez
Martinez

The five retiring Southern Democrat senators and Mel Martinez, a moderate conservative Republican Hispanic, running for open senate seat in Florida, bodes well for Republicans. John Thune, who is more popular in conservative Republican South Dakota than Tom Daschle, may well gain another seat. Even factoring in Republican losses in Illinois and Alaska, Republicans should gain from two to seven senate seats.

Many pundits view likely Republican senate gains in 2004 as part of the cycle which this year favors Republicans. That is wishful thinking. The 2006 senate races looks even worse for Democrats. Six freshmen Democrats in 2000 - Nelson of Florida, Nelson of Nebraska, Dayton of Minnesota, Cantwell of Washington, Strabenow of Michigan and Corzine of New Jersey - won election by 51 per cent or less. Three of those six - Cantwell, Strabenow and Dayton - actually received a minority of the popular vote (no Republican senate candidates did in 2000.)

Only one Republican senate candidate in 2006 had a close race in 2000, and that was Conrad Burns of Montana. Unlike the six vulnerable Democrats, who will be seeking reelection in 2006 as freshmen senators of the minority party, Burns will be seeking reelection as the veteran senator of the majority party in a conservative and Republican state.

That understates the problem of Senate Democrats. Hillary Clinton will be a lightning rod for Republicans in 2006. Rudy Giuliani probably run hard for her seat, because winning could easily get him in the White House. John Kerry in Massachusetts and Diane Feinstein in California may well retire in 2006, and right now both states have popular Republican governors.

Republicans in 2006 will probably increase their Senate strength and may well achieve a filibuster proof Senate. The Senate, even more than the House, is logically Republican. Although none of the last four presidential elections have been landslides. Republicans won two of those and Democrats won two of those.

In these four elections, Republicans have averaged about 45 per cent of the popular vote, while Democrats have averaged about 46 per cent of the popular vote; Republicans have averaged about 47 per cent of the electoral votes, while Democrats have averaged about 53 per cent of the electoral votes; but Republicans have carried an average of 53 per cent of the states, while Democrats have carried only an average of 47 per cent of the states. Many more states are Republican than Democrat.

Not only are most states Republican, but most governors, who tend to become senators, are Republican. In 2002, Republicans surprising retained twenty-six of the governorships. Now twenty-eight governors are Republicans. In 2004, it is likely that Republicans will add to their numbers, and in 2005 only Democrat governors will be up for reelection.

Add to these advantages for Republicans the factor of majority status. Would Tim Johnson have won in 2002 if South Dakotans had known that Tom Daschle was going to be Minority Leader, rather than Majority Leader? Probably not. The stronger the Republican hold on the Senate, the less likely states are to elect Democrats - minority party members - in Senate races.

Democrats seem to sense that they have lost Congress. The best evidence for this is the leadership of Congressional Democrats. Dick Gephardt, who presents himself as an old style labor union liberal from a moderate Midwestern state is leaving Congress and his replacement is a San Francisco Leftist lady who is completely out of synch with Flyover Country.

If Daschle loses in South Dakota, the Democrat Senate Floor Leader will probably be a Leftist woman from the East or West coast like Hillary Clinton, Diane Feinstein, Barbara Milduski, Patty Murray or Barbara Boxer.

Republicans, by contrast, have replaced a controversial Speaker from the Deep South and a foot-in-mouth Floor Leader from the Deeper South with a former high school wrestling coach from Illinois and a former heart surgeon from Tennessee. Danny Hassert and Bill Frist are intended to convey commonsense, civility and pragmatism.

Democrats had a chance to regroup, rethink and reform after their debacle of 2002. They did not. Now, Democrats will have to look beyond 2004, beyond 2006 and probably beyond 2008 before they will have a chance at growing out of minority status.

Bruce Walker is a senior writer with Enter Stage Right. He is also a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.

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