Salena Zito

It’s role-reversal time.

After a 16-year drought, Democrats have restored confidence among their elected officials and supporters with the swearing-in of President Barack Obama.

Gone are all traces of Battered Democrat Syndrome, the affliction caused by years of running and losing (or, worse, winning the popular vote but still losing the election).

Democrat strategist Jason Ralston of RalstonLapp said it was sort of like thinking you resemble George Clooney and learning that people see you as George Costanza. “The way out … is to change the way people perceive you,” he said.

Republicans now face a perception problem. Fair or not, they need to debunk a lot of “Costanza” images – that they are the party of old white guys, of over-the-top religious zealots, of failed Bush policies.

Consultant Dan Fee knows how Republicans feel. He went to Tennessee in 1994 to work for the Democratic Party; when he got there, Democrats controlled both of the state’s U.S. Senate seats, the governor’s office, the state House and the congressional delegation. By the time he left a couple years later, Republicans controlled it all.

Fee recalls being “constantly concerned as to whether you hit bottom yet.”

He had the misfortune to begin his Democrat-operative career the same year as Newt Gingrich’s Republican Revolution, when “You never knew where your footing should be. … By 2001 we were questioning whether we would ever become a majority party again.”

The only hope gleaned from 2000’s presidential race was that Al Gore lost the Electoral College but did win the popular vote.

“We just needed to figure out how to use that and what it meant going forward,” Fee said. Democrats didn’t have a Newt to lead the way; instead, “George Bush post-2004 did it for us.”

And, he added, they had Howard Dean, who “understood it was not about getting to 270 (electoral votes), it was about getting to all 50 states.”

The GOP needs one of two things now – for another Newt Gingrich to emerge, or for Obama to become the equivalent of George Bush post-2004.

Governor Mark Sanford, R-South Carolina, is not looking for Obama failures to resurrect the GOP. He is looking towards good policies.

“There is always a lot more soul-searching in defeat than in victory,” he explains.

Sanford recognizes that Republicans in Congress have little opportunity to advance policy, so that will be the job of GOP governors and state legislators.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.