What the Hell Happened on Tuesday?
What happened on Tuesday? A popular president, a Democratic Party without a message, and a continuing resurgence of Republicans in rural states turned what was supposed to be an even election into a significant Republican win.
Major credit goes to President Bush, who campaigned for a Senate majority harder than any president in memory, and to the American voters, who said "enough already" to the partisanship and obstructive tactics of the Daschle Democrats.
There was lots of good news for Republicans. The party maintained its majority in the House, gaining at least four seats. Democrats so nastily politicized Sen. Paul Wellstone's memorial service that Minnesota voters politely declined to exhume Walter Mondale for a celebratory lap around the Senate track. His graying performance in Monday's debate with an energetic Norm Coleman didn't help either. Or maybe the voters of Minnesota were saying one Lautenberg is enough.
Republicans held five open seats, created by retirements in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas and the primary defeat of Sen. Bob Smith in New Hampshire. They gained back a Missouri seat, likely influenced by a bit of nasty Democratic partisanship. Two years ago Gov. Mel Carnahan was running for the Senate against John Ashcroft. A few weeks before the election, Carnahan died in a plane crash. On election day, Carnahan won the most votes, and the acting governor appointed his widow, Jean, to fill the seat. Mr. Ashcroft graciously stepped aside, declining to mount a legal challenge to the election of a dead man. Mrs. Carnahan repaid this class act by voting against Mr. Ashcroft's nomination for attorney general. Voters in turn repaid this slap to home state courtesy. Republicans also learned some lessons in the one incumbent seat they lost, in Arkansas. Betraying your wife with a young staffer may be acceptable conduct in liberal communities, but in mainstream America it comes with a heavy political price.
The South Dakota Senate seat seems to have stayed in Democratic hands, but will likely be decided in court. And Louisiana's December runoff gives the president a chance to work his magic and perhaps gain one more Senate seat.
Electing governors in two of the Democrats' liberal bastions, Massachusetts and Maryland, must have felt pretty good too, especially when one of the favorites who lost was a Kennedy. And Jeb Bush won a landslide victory in Florida even though his defeat was the No. 1 priority of Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe. The most interesting gubernatorial race was Mark Sanford's win against an incumbent in South Carolina, because Mr. Sanford won on a platform of phasing out the state's income tax. In addition to the Senate upset in Georgia, Republicans elected a governor there for the first time since Reconstruction.
The National Conference of State Legislators was stunned by Tuesday's results too: Republicans gained some 280 seats across the country and took control of at least five legislative chambers while tying two others. Nationally there may be more Republican state legislators than Democrats for the first time in half a century.
Tuesday's Republican victories were broad and deep, and President Bush did what no other president since FDR has done; he won seats in the House and Senate in his first midterm election. It was, in short, a very good day for him.
Meanwhile down the ballot citizens were exercising their common sense in the many propositions they were asked to approve. By an 80% to 20% margin, Oregon voters rejected the socialized-medicine plan I wrote about last week, and they defeated a measure that would have mandated labeling of genetically engineered food by about the same margin. Nevada voted down the legalization of marijuana by 60% to 40%. Had the measure passed, residents could have possessed enough marijuana for up to 250 joints. North Dakota defeated a plan to pay young people up to $10,000 if they would stay in the state after graduating from college. Pregnant pigs in Florida can no longer be confined in gestation cages.
Even voters in far-out Berkeley, Calif., showed signs of sanity, voting down a proposed ban on "non-fair trade" coffee. "Fair trade" coffee is organic, pesticide free and higher priced. Further south, Los Angeles voters rejected secession for Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley.
On a more serious note, same-day voter registration, an open invitation to fraud, went down to defeat in California and Colorado, while the teachers union's pet project of limiting class sizes passed in Florida--even though Gov. Bush's challenger, Bill McBride, lost largely because he couldn't explain how he'd pay for it.
"Taxachussetts" lived up to its name, rejecting a ballot proposition to repeal the state income tax. But it did get 46% of the vote, so Gov. Mitt Romney is not likely to include a tax increase in his January plans. Three ballot initiatives to allow investment of public funds in market accounts failed. English immersion rather than bilingual education, already the law in California and Arizona, won in Massachusetts and lost in Colorado. In Idaho, voters agreed that term limits should not be reinstated.
So what does all this add up to? A stronger President Bush and an end to Daschle Democratism (all obstruction all the time), so the president now has an opportunity to get his program through Congress. His first priority must be our economic challenge, perhaps beginning with a gentle reminder to whoever in the administration has been blocking Larry Lindsey's pro-growth policies to sit down and be quiet.
The Democratic Party is in total disarray. Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt will run for president, since there's nothing for them to do in Washington. Al Gore had a good night, for the Democrats did worse in 2002 than when he was on the ticket two years earlier--so he will run too. Will Joe Lieberman keep his pledge and not run? We'll see.
The party is a pudding without a theme, and so will follow its 1930s instincts and shift left. The Jesse Jackson-Barbra Streisand-Hillary Clinton wing of the party will gain influence, and that will help Republicans. But the teachers union and trial lawyers are very angry this morning, and will redouble their efforts in 2004, and that will make things more difficult.
The political argument isn't over, it never is, but it has shifted conservative. What a difference a day makes.
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