WASHINGTON -- The untold story from last week's Republican victory was the ineffectiveness of the left's attacks on right-wing reform. Democrats surprisingly did not launch a national campaign against partial privatization of Social Security. They did unlimber heavy artillery against radical changes in federal taxation but ended up shooting duds.
This failure was dramatized by Senate elections in the very red states of Oklahoma and South Carolina. Right up to Election Day, serious Democratic strategists saw an excellent chance to win in both states because the Republican candidates were uncompromising reformers and, therefore, stigmatized as loony rightists. Instead, former Rep. Tom Coburn in Oklahoma and Rep. Jim DeMint in South Carolina won easily.
The same Democratic strategists who misread those Senate races are chortling that the re-elected George W. Bush blundered by pledging his political capital on radical reform. Even in his own administration, officials whisper that President Bush surely will step aside in the face of intractable opposition. These skeptics, however, are contradicted by the outcome of 2004.
The Club for Growth, which in 2000 began supporting economic conservatives running for Congress, this year contributed to seven non-incumbent Republican candidates -- all in tightly contested races. Six were winners (in Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Louisiana and Florida). The only loser was beer baron Pete Coors in Colorado, a rookie candidate with much to learn. Five of the seven candidates were vigorous Social Security and tax reform advocates, the exceptions being John Thune in South Dakota (who concentrated on trashing Democratic Leader Tom Daschle) and Mel Martinez in Florida.
Steve Moore, the feisty free market economist who is Club for Growth's president, concentrated on helping aggressive reformers Coburn and DeMint. Both had to wade through fierce Republican primary opposition and were not favorites of the GOP's Washington establishment. The Oklahoma Republican power structure was aligned against Coburn, as was the House Republican leadership that did not remember him fondly from his congressional days. Speaker Dennis Hastert publicly dismissed Coburn as a probable loser in the same category as Alan Keyes, who finished 43 percentage points behind in Illinois.