McCain gains political capital
Sen. John McCain emerged from the Nov. 7 elections as one of Republicans’ only winners as Democrats made solid gains and both parties turn an eye toward 2008.
The Arizona Republican, who wasn’t up for re-election, rallied to the side of Republican candidates at 131 events — a strong showing that displayed his rising popularity. His strength was underscored Monday when Charlie Crist, Florida’s new Republican governor, chose to skip a scheduled rally with President Bush for an event with Mr. McCain.
“There’sgoingtobeabatchofpeople who are going to personally owe McCain and there’s going to be another batch of people who are going to have to rethink their view of him,” said Michael McKenna, a Republican strategist and pollster.
“He was a pretty solid party stalwart this go around, in a cycle when itwasnoteasytobeapartystalwart.”
As both parties took stock of wins andlossesonNov.7,thesoul-searching began for Republicans, while Democrats will now focus on capitalizing on their gains.
Foremost among those Democrats are rising star Sen. Barack Obama, the charismatic Illinois Democrat who recently said he no longer rules out running for president in 2008, and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the New York Democratwhocheckedoffanimportantbox on her presidential to-do list by getting re-elected, amassing a substantial campaign fund and a solid springboard victory in the process.
But the prospects for both parties in Congress are more bleak with a lame-duck president and leaders of bothpartiesstakingoutpositionsfor the election in two years.
Neither party ran on a forwardlooking agenda, with Republicans asking voters to stay the course on Iraq and the economy while De- mocratsproposedrollingbacksome of the Bush tax cuts and said they represented a vote of no confidence in the way the administration has prosecuted the war.
Without a mandate for either party, there is little to push Capitol Hill off the gridlock that has stalled further tax cuts, Social Security reform and other major initiatives.
And Democrats have their work cut out for them in 2008 defending House seats they won on solidly Republicanground.Fourofthoseseats were the result of disgraced Republicans: Rep. Don Sherwood in Pennsylvania and former Reps. Mark FoleyinFlorida,BobNeyinOhioand Tom DeLay in Texas.
Still, Democrats’ wins in the House, giving them control for the first time since 1995, will alter the agenda on several thorny issues, including key gun legislation such as the assault weapons ban, which lapsedunderRepublicancontrolbut could come back under Democratic control.
Democrats have also promised to revisit and expand Mr. Bush’s Medicareprescriptiondrugprogram.
And a Democrat-controlled Houseremovesthemajorobstacleto a broad immigration bill that includes a path to citizenship for illegal aliens. House Republicans had blocked action on such a proposal, calling it amnesty, but House Democrats can now team with a bipartisanmajorityintheSenateandwith a willing president to pass a bill.
Onthedefensivesideoftheledger, Democratswillbeinabetterposition toblockfuturefreetradeagreements.
The Republican search for answers will center on Mr. Bush, the leader of the party, whose string of electionsuccessescametoanendin dramatic fashion and with a strong rejection of his leadership.
According to a national exit poll, conducted for the Associated Press and the major broadcast networks, morethantwiceasmanyvoterssaid they felt angry toward the president thanfeltenthusiastic,andmorethan a third of voters said their vote was in opposition to him.
“AllofusRepublicansaregoingto sit down together and listen to the voters,getthemessagefromtonight, and we’re going to shape not a new agendabutareturntotheprinciples and philosophy of what we stand for and believe in,” Mr. McCain said on Fox News.
Florida Republican candidate for governor Charlie Crist (left) skipped a scheduled appearance with President Bush in Pensacola, Fla. on Nov. 6 to attend a campaign rally with Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain in Jacksonville, Fla.