Republican turnout

Posted: Nov 07, 2002 12:00 AM
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 believe it. 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 base. 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.