Bush leads

Debra J. Saunders

11/8/2002 12:00:00 AM - Debra J. Saunders
Call it leadership. The Dems were slamming President Bush for stumping for congressional candidates while he was trying to drum up support for U.S. military action against Iraq. Ignoring the clamor, Dubya didn't falter. History argued against his efforts. A GOP president had never gained legislative seats during his first term. Still, Bush pushed on. More than that, he campaigned down to the wire for other candidates harder than when he campaigned for himself in 2000. His personal poll numbers dropped. Bush stayed the course. "The president doesn't govern by polls, and he doesn't make his decisions based on polls," explained spokesman Ken Lisaius. Americans clearly welcomed an end to finger-in-the-wind politics. Bush risked his own political skin to win the Senate. He wanted to end the gridlock from Democrat-controlled committees stalling the passage of budget bills, homeland security legislation, an energy package and approval of judicial nominees. Bush knows better than to gloat. Wednesday, in a show of bipartisanship, Bush called newly elected Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark. That's a nice touch, but Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott has my permission to move the office of Sen. James Jeffords -- Vermont's Republican-turned-Democrat-leaning independent -- to the basement. Where did the Dems go wrong? They accused Bush of playing politics on Iraq. Bush stood firm, letting the Democrats play the angles, both supporting and distancing themselves from the Bush/Iraq policy. Never discount the hubris factor in politics. When New Jersey Democratic Party suits dumped Sen. Robert Torricelli for the more electable Frank Lautenberg, they ticked off Repubs nationwide. Then came the "memorial service" for Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., and his wife and daughter. Of course, a funereal event for a politician will be political. But after the Dems talked up the need for Minnesotans to have time to grieve Wellstone, they presented a service with all the hallmarks of a political rally -- except a balloon drop and chants of "four more years." Each time the camera showed former President Bill and now-Sen. Hillary Clinton gleefully glad-handing other pols, GOP voter resolve intensified. Indeed, Bush could have had a national sweep, from the Maryland statehouse to Sacramento, if only the Bushies hadn't flubbed California. According to The Los Angeles Times, some 60 percent of California voters had a negative impression of Gov. Gray Davis' job performance. Davis garnered 1.7 million fewer votes this year than in 1998, and fewer votes than Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante. Davis may have beat Bill Simon 47 percent to 42 percent, but it's clear Davis would have lost to a better Republican. The GOP probably would have picked a different nominee -- Secretary of State Bill Jones -- except that the Bushies prodded former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan into the race. Big mistake. Riordan was contemptuous of GOP voters, fluid in his opinions and a big donor to Davis campaigns. Davis ran ads against Riordan. It was Riordan who shot Riordan in both feet; the primary went to Simon. If the Bushies had stayed out of the primary, chances are Jones would have trumped the not-ready-for-primetime Simon. But noooo. The Bushies had to punish Jones for switching his endorsement from Bush to John McCain in 2000. Jones lost -- and the GOP lost California. Too bad that the White House's willingness to reach out to Democrats doesn't extend to occasionally wayward Republicans.