Post-Elec­tion Day

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

Arecord-set­ting Dow, solid eco­nomic growth (av­er­ag­ing more than 3.1 per­cent per year over the last two years), an un­em­ploy­ment rate of 4.4 per­cent and an in­fla­tion rate of 2.1 per­cent could not pro­tect the Repub­li­can Party from the Demo­cratic tsunami that con­vulsed Amer­ica’s po­lit­i­cal land­scape on Nov. 7. As bad as it was, Repub­li­cans should take a minute to imag­ine how much worse it could have been. In­deed, if the av­er­age price of gaso­line had not plunged 84 cents a gal­lon (from $3.08 to $2.24) over the pre­ced­ing three months and if Karl Rove’s 72-hour get-out-the-vote blitz had not helped to res­cue as many as 40 House seats and the Ten­nessee Se­nate seat, the old-fash­ioned “thumpin’ “ that Democrats ad­min­is­tered on Elec­tion Day could eas­ily have turned into a po­lit­i­cal catas­tro­phe of epic pro­por­tions.

Let’s sur­vey the land­scape. Cap­tur­ing con­trol of the Se­nate with a 51-49 ma­jor­ity, Democrats pulled off the “dou­ble hat trick” by de­feat­ing six in­cum­bent Repub­li­can sen­a­tors, while suc­cess­fully de­fend­ing all 18 Demo­cratic seats (in­clud­ing Ver­mont). Given the fa­vor­able Repub­li­can out­look for 2006 fol­low­ing the 2004 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, the Demo­cratic vic­tory mar­gins achieved by in­cum­bents once thought to be po­ten­tially vul­ner­a­ble were stun­ning: Florida’s Bill Nelson (22 per­cent­age points), Michi­gan’s Deb­bie Stabenow (16 points), Ne­braska’s Ben Nelson (28 points), North Dakota’s Kent Con­rad (39 points), Wash­ing­ton’s Maria Cantwell (22 points) and West Vir­ginia’s Robert Byrd (30 points). Democrats con- test­ing the party’s three open Se­nate seats all cruised to vic­tory on Elec­tion Day, win­ning Min­nesota by 20 points, Mary­land by 11 points and Ver­mont (which re­elected a Repub­li­can gov­er­nor) by 33 points. As we have fre­quently pointed out, the vic­to­ri­ous party has tra­di­tion­ally won the lion’s share of close Se­nate elec­tions. Demo­cratic can­di­dates pre­vailed in all four close races where a Repub­li­can in­cum­bent was de­feated, win­ning Vir­ginia (49.6-49.3), Mon­tana (49.1-48.3), Mis­souri (49.5-47.4) and Rhode Is­land (53.5-46.5).

In the House, where eight seats are in var­i­ous stages of re­count­ing and pro­vi­sional-bal­lot tal­ly­ing and two seats will be de­cided by run-offs, Democrats (so far) have knocked off 20 Repub­li­can in­cum­bents and have cap­tured eight open seats that were va­cated by Repub­li­cans. The GOP ca­su­al­ties in­cluded six-term Rep. J.D. Hay­worth of Ari­zona; seven-term Cal­i­for­nia Rep. Richard Pombo, chair­man of the Re­sources Com­mit­tee; 12term Rep. Nancy John­son of Con­necti­cut; three In­di­ana rep­re­sen­ta­tives whose dis­tricts re-elected Pres­i­dent Bush by mar­gins of 13, 19 and 24 points; 30-year House vet­eran Jim Leach of Iowa, for­mer Bank­ing Com­mit­tee chair­man; the twom­em­ber House del­e­ga­tion of New Hamp­shire, in­clud­ing six-term Rep. Char­lie Bass; New York Reps. Sue Kelly (the six­term mem­ber who won re-elec­tion in 2002 and 2004 with 70 per­cent and 67 per­cent, re­spec­tively) and John Sweeney (the four-ter­mer who won re-elec­tion in 2002 and 2004 with 73 per­cent and 66 per­cent); eight-term Rep. Charles Tay­lor of North Carolina; and four Penn­syl­va­nia in­cum­bents, in­clud­ing Melissa Hart (who won re-elec­tion in 2002 and 2004 with 65 per­cent and 63 per­cent), 20-year vet­eran Curt Wel­don (who av­er­aged 66 per­cent through­out his ca­reer) and mis­tress­plagued Don Sher­wood (who re­ceived 93 per­cent of the vote in each of his two pre­vi­ous cam­paigns).

Among the eight Repub­li­can-held open seats that Democrats cap­tured were the Ari­zona seat va­cated by 22-year vet­eran Jim Kolbe; three scan­dal-tinged seats held by for­mer Ma­jor­ity Leader Tom De­Lay of Texas, Mark Fo­ley of Florida and Bob Ney of Ohio; and three seats in Colorado, Iowa and Wis­con­sin that were va­cated by Repub­li­cans who were de­feated Nov. 7 in gu­ber­na­to­rial cam­paigns.

Speak­ing of gov­er­nors: Democrats won 20 of the 36 seats up for grabs on Nov. 7. Five Democrats cap­tured gov­er­nors’ jobs va­cated by re­tir­ing Repub­li­cans (New York, Ohio, Mas­sachusetts, Colorado and Arkansas); and Martin O’Mal­ley, the Demo­cratic mayor of Bal­ti­more, de­feated Repub­li­can Gov. Robert Ehrlich. Repub­li­cans should take lit­tle so­lace from the re­elec­tion vic­tory of Cal­i­for­nia Gov. Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger, who re­cov­ered from plung­ing ap­proval rat­ings af­ter first hir­ing as his chief of staff the cabi­net sec­re­tary of for­mer Demo­cratic Gov. Gray Davis and then gov­ern­ing as a Demo­crat. Ex­clud­ing Mr. Sch­warzeneg­ger, Democrats now con­trol 28 gov­er­nor­ships, six more than Repub­li­cans con­trol. Democrats also did quite well in races for seats in state leg­is­la­tures, cap­tur­ing nearly 300 seats from Repub­li­cans and ma­jor­ity con­trol of nine cham­bers. In­clud­ing leg­isla­tive cham­bers and gov­er­nors’s man­sions, Democrats now to­tally con­trol 15 states, the most one party has dom­i­nated since the Repub­li­can land­slide of 1994.

Now con­sider how much worse it could have been. A re­view of all 435 House con­tests re­veals that at least 24 Repub­li­can can­di­dates won re-elec­tion with 53 per­cent or less of the vote. No­ta­bles in­clude Chris Shays of Con­necti­cut, three New York in­cum­bents (James Walsh, Tom Reynolds and Randy Kuhl), Ohio’s Steve Chabot, Penn­syl­va­nia’s Jim Ger­lach and Char­lie Dent and Thelma Drake of Vir­ginia. An­other 11 Repub­li­cans won re­elec­tion with 54 or 55 per­cent of the vote. In six un­de­cided races (two in Ohio and one each in New Mex­ico, Wy­oming, North Carolina and Wash­ing­ton), Repub­li­can rep­re­sen­ta­tives hold very small leads. Th­ese three groups of po­ten­tially en­dan­gered Repub­li­cans to­tal more than 40 GOP seats. (Democrats hold small leads in un­de­cided con­tests in Ge­or­gia and Con­necti­cut, which in­volves Repub­li­can in­cum­bent Rep. Rob Sim­mons.)

In the ab­sence of the re­cent plunge in gaso­line prices and with­out the ben­e­fit of Mr. Rove’s 72-hour get-out-the-vote ef­fort, which most an­a­lysts be­lieve could add three or four points to a Repub­li­can can­di­date’s to­tal, many of the 40-plus seats could have — and prob­a­bly would have — fallen to Democrats. In­stead of a 28-to-30 seat loss, Repub­li­cans very con­ceiv­ably could have faced a loss of 60 or more seats.

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