I was speaking with a Republican Senator just moments after Senator George Allen (R-VA) conceded defeat to Reagan Republican - turned Democrat James H. Webb, Jr. The Senator told me, "Perhaps we are better off with Democrats' controlling both Houses than we would have been with Republicans' holding on by virtue of Vice President Cheney's breaking a tie." I think the Senator is correct. With only one vote clinging to a majority there would have been an unreasonable expectation of what the barely Republican Senate working with President George W. Bush could accomplish. Now the Democrats are in control of both Houses. It is clear cut. They are in charge. Since President Bush does not like to veto bills (he has vetoed one bill in six years in office) you can look for Bush now to seek compromise with the Democratic Congress.
Those compromises will be good for the Democrats but very bad for the Republicans. Republicans only win when there are sharp differences between the parties. That was one of the problems with this election. The Democratic Party deliberately recruited Democrats who agreed with the Republicans on certain issues. Inasmuch as voters only vote for Republicans when Democrats are far too liberal, the strategy worked. If Democrats play it right they can be in power for the next generation.
At a strategy meeting for conservatives, one Republican official went down the list of new Democratic Members of the House who had won by 4,000 votes and under, then 2,000 votes and under and, finally, by a few hundred votes. This official used this tally supposedly to show that the Republicans can come roaring back in 2008. I disagree. Democrats are skilled at teaching their Members how to solidify their districts. When all is said and done I'll state here and now that I expect only a handful of freshmen Democrats to be defeated in 2008. Many had everything but the old kitchen sink thrown at them in this election. They were running against incumbents and incumbents are difficult to defeat. They have for the most part more special-interest money than do challengers and they have millions of taxpayer money to use to help them get reelected. The fact that so many Republican incumbents were defeated is a testimonial to how strong the Democratic sweep really was.
January will begin my 40th year in Washington. Of course, I was only 12 when I came here. Seriously, I was 24 and took the job as Press Secretary to Senator Gordon L. Allott (R-CO). I have continued to learn every year I have been here. Every day is different. Every day presents new challenges.
When there is a Republican wipe-out it takes years to climb back. Such a wipe-out occurred the year I became acting chairman of a Republican group in my home county, 1958. We didn't have a fun time because Republican after Republican was defeated.
For those of us who are sick of around-the-clock campaigning this is not a good era in which to live. We have six such news stations, which run 24/7 on cable. They must have something to run. For that reason Iowa Governor Thomas Vilsack has filed papers with the Federal Election Committee, announcing his Presidential candidacy for 2008. Likewise even before the elections were held, Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, announced his intention to run for the Presidency.
Neither of these men is likely to have any real chance to be elected President. So what gives? Dark-horse candidates may be trying to raise their profiles to attract sufficient attention of the Presidential nominee that, against all odds, they might be a Vice Presidential pick. Or if the candidate of their party wins they might be in for a cabinet post. That's all well and good for them.
Vilsack is a term-limited Governor, out of office in January. Republicans having lost their House majority, Hunter will become Ranking Minority Member of Armed Services, no longer Chairman. No fun there. Having just been re-elected for a two-year term, he can build name recognition.
What about the rest of us? It was bad enough when politics began with Iowa Caucuses in the January of the Presidential year. Now we have candidates running more than two years before the next election. There is no end to campaigning.
I think the Canadian system is to be envied in this one respect. An election is called by the Prime Minister by dissolving Parliament. The campaign is only about 60 days thereafter. The argument has been that this is not enough time for the public to get to know those in the minority. The minority in Canada tends to be higher profile than the minority in the USA. Governments change hands. Brian Mulroney was twice elected Prime Minister. Then the Conservatives got wiped out. They came back briefly with a government lasting only a few months. The Liberal Party returned to power for some terms. Now finally the Conservatives are back, but with a minority government. The word in Ottawa is that the Prime Minister intends to dissolve Parliament in the spring. He will call for elections, hoping to vote in a majority government.
During the remainder of the time Parliament does its business. That is hotly debated on radio and television but Members of Parliament are dealing with issues. The time for campaigning is actually a relatively short period and yet that short period has not cost the opposition the chance to return to power.
I think the campaign for 2008 already having begun is much too much. Of course, the fact that Vilsack and Hunter have announced will force other candidates into the ring. They will be happily covered by not just the cable news/talk channels but by the so-called mainstream media as well. Senator John S. McCain, III (R-AZ) virtually lives at NBC. There is no way under our system to cut down the duration of these campaigns. The only thing we can do is to let the candidates know that we do not appreciate their being out there this early. If enough of you agree with me and we can convince others to deliver the same message astute politicians will get the picture.