The immediate result of last Tuesday's election was to give
Republicans an extra vote in the Senate, while subtracting one for the
Democrats. This results from Jim Talent's win over Jean Carnahan in
Missouri. Since she was appointed to the seat, state law mandates that the
victor in the next general election fills the seat immediately.
As a practical matter, however, this may not be worth much in a
lame-duck session. For the rest of the year -- and perhaps into the next --
Democrats will still chair all Senate Committees and Tom Daschle will remain
the majority leader. Power will not change in a meaningful sense until
Republicans and Democrats hammer out a new resolution organizing the Senate.
That will take time -- more time than there will be before the Senate
reconvenes in January.
Therefore, it is unrealistic to expect a sudden flurry of
judicial nominations to come to a vote or any significant legislative
activity on a Republican agenda. Most likely, all the Senate will have time
to do after it reconvenes tomorrow (Nov. 12) is to finish the budget and
possibly the homeland security bill. Any movement on Republican initiatives
that have been bottled up in the Senate by Democrats will wait until after
the State of the Union Address.
January's State of the Union Address by President Bush will have
more than the usual significance, given the election results. The results
were more an endorsement of him than of the Republican Party as a whole.
Republicans in Congress, especially those who owe their seats to Bush's
campaigning, know this very well. Thus, for a time, they will follow Bush
just about anywhere he cares to go.
At the same time, Democrats are likely to be a bit more docile
than usual. They have been badly stung by their losses and will need some
time to reformulate a strategy for reacquiring power. At least for now,
their strategy of opposing everything Bush proposes, without offering any
positive alternative of their own, seems to be dead.
It is evident in the election results that Bush's oft-repeated
desire for a "new tone" in Washington has struck a resonant chord with the
American people. Democrats in the nation's capital may continue to believe
that such talk is only so much rhetoric, but for now must behave as if they
Indeed, the Democrats' unwillingness to moderate their tone
probably cost them at least two Senate seats. Polls show that Saxby
Chambliss got a big boost in his Georgia race when three Democratic
congressmen went to Baghdad and appeared to be giving aid and comfort to
Saddam Hussein. It may have been a factor in other races as well.
Another place where Democrats crossed the line was in Minnesota,
where they turned a memorial service for the late Sen. Paul Wellstone into
an unseemly campaign rally. Republicans were particularly incensed by the
booing of Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott and the dissing of Vice
President Dick Cheney, who was asked not to attend. This offended many
Minnesotans, particularly Independent Gov. Jesse Ventura, who went out of
his way afterward to give the Democrats grief about it.
Finally, Democrats overplayed their hand in New Jersey. Although
Democrat Frank Lautenberg won easily there, many Republicans remain bitter
about the way he replaced the original nominee, Bob Torricelli. Republicans
believe that Democrats cheated by getting some Democrat judges to simply
ignore the law and, in effect, make Lautenberg a senator by fiat. It may not
have mattered in New Jersey, but elsewhere it helped energize the Republican
In the end, it was the performance of each party's base that
made the difference in the outcome. Republicans were energized, Democrats
were not. The Democrat strategy of not pressing a liberal agenda and simply
relying on attacking Bush and Republicans backfired. Defeating Republicans
just so that Democrats can have power is an insufficient motivation to vote
when there is no promise that it will result in changes in policy.
On the other hand, Republicans have grown terribly weary of the
lack of respect shown to them by Democrat leaders such as Democratic
National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, and the constant attacks on
them for racism, sexism, homophobia and corporate malfeasance, among other
things. They also don't like it when they are continually attacked for
simply wanting honest elections, while Democrats turn a blind eye to fraud
in places like South Dakota, where a Democrat operative was caught
attempting to forge absentee ballots.
Voter intensity is one of the biggest unknowns in politics. That
is the main reason why pollsters make mistakes. They simply have no
foolproof way of figuring out who will actually vote and who won't. In
general, however, voter intensity is stronger among Republicans. Their voter
turnout has fallen less than for Democrats over time, and Republican turnout
has been edging up since 1974, while Democrat turnout has fallen
continuously since 1982.
It appears that better turnout by Republicans made the
difference on Tuesday. As long as Democrats continue to play slash-and-burn,
win-at-all-cost politics, Republican turnout will remain strong.