Skip to comments.Baffled in Loss, Democrats Seek Road Forward
Posted on 11/06/2004 11:47:08 AM PST by Pokey78
WASHINGTON, Nov. 6 - The Democratic Party emerged from this week's election struggling over what it stood for, anxious about its political future, and bewildered about how to compete with a Republican Party that some Democrats say may be headed for a period of electoral dominance.
Democrats said President Bush's defeat of Senator John Kerry by three million votes left the party facing its most difficult time in at least 20 years. Some Democrats said the situation was particularly worrisome because of the absence of any compelling Democratic leader prepared to steer the party back to power or carry its banner in 2008.
"We really need to work on the question of what we are for," said Walter F. Mondale, the former vice president whose 1984 loss to Ronald Reagan was invoked by some Democrats in assessing the party's spirits now. "Unless we have a vision and the arguments to match, I don't think we're going to truly connect with the American people."
Gov. Janet Napolitano, Democrat of Arizona, where Mr. Kerry made a failed effort to grasp from the Republican column, said: "We need a fresh reassessment of how we communicate with people. How did a party that has been out of power in Washington, D.C., become tagged with the problems of Washington, D.C.? How did a party that is filled with people with values - and I am a person with values - get tagged as the party without values?"
And Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana said: "We need to be a party that stands for more than the sum of our resentments. In the heartland, where I am from, there are doubts. Too often we're caricatured as a bicoastal cultural elite that is condescending at best and contemptuous at worst to the values that Americans hold in their daily lives."
Mr. Kerry's loss has, inevitably, created recriminations about a candidate that many Democrats had always viewed as stiff, and a campaign that was often criticized as slow-moving and unfocused. Democrats said that Mr. Kerry failed to provide a compelling message, gliding on the belief that Mr. Bush would defeat himself, and that the campaign was slow in responding to attacks on his war record by Vietnam veterans.
And some Democrats, especially centrist ones, expressed concern that liberals would draw a mistaken lesson from the loss: that the Democratic Party needed to swing back to the left to energize Democratic base voters to counter the upsurge of conservative base voters on the right.
"That's not a recipe for winning," said Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia, a Democrat frequently mentioned by party officials as a possible presidential contender in 2008. "That's a recipe for disaster."
But the criticisms of Mr. Kerry were slight when compared with the scorn offered for Al Gore after he lost in 2000, or for Michael S. Dukakis after his defeat in 1988. And there was little sign, at least so far, of the kind of intra-party warring that typically grips losing political parties.
Instead, in interviews with elected officials and party leaders across the country, Democrats were much more interested in talking about the future than this past year, reflecting what Stanley Greenberg, the Democratic pollster who advised Mr. Kerry and worked for Bill Clinton in 1992, sardonically described as the unifying power President Bush has wielded over the typically fractious Democratic Party.
Several party officials said what they were most concerned about was the extent to which Republicans had succeeded in presenting the Democratic Party as out of the cultural mainstream.
"I'm not saying that Kerry did anything wrong on this, but I think that we ignored in large measure the three big cultural issues of this election: guns, abortion and gay rights, epitomized by gay marriage," said Harold M. Ickes, a former senior adviser to Bill Clinton who ran an independent political committee that sought to unseat Mr. Bush, adding. " These are very, very big issues. They really, really motivate people."
Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm, Democrat of Michigan, said that in order to be competitive with Republicans, Democrats had to have a message that was ''strong and strongly pro-work, pro-responsibility, pro-duty, pro-service, pro-child, pro-seniors."
"And not to be afraid of saying God," Ms. Granholm said. "And not to be afraid of saying that this is a country that is based upon faith.''
Party officials said they were concerned about evidence of a cultural gap between Democrats and much of the country. Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico said that his dealings with Mr. Kerry and his advisers had vividly demonstrated to him the problems the party faces.
"I remember being on a trip with him in New Mexico: I put a cowboy hat on Senator Kerry and someone on his staff shuddered and asked me to stop," he said. "This is I think an example of the East Coast not connecting with the West Coast and with the rest of the country."
Democrats said their immediate concern was the 2006 Senate elections, when 17 Democratic incumbents are up, compared to 15 Republicans, giving Republicans an automatic upper-hand from the outset. Several of the Democrats are in nominally Democratic states where Mr. Bush made a strong showing, like New Mexico and Minnesota. The Republicans picked up four Senate seats on Tuesday, expanding their hold on the Senate to 55-45.
The problem, some Democrats said, will be even more vexing in 2008, when there will be no incumbent president , leaving the race open on both sides. At this very early date, party officials said Hillary Rodham Clinton, the New York senator, is best positioned to win the presidential nomination. But Democrats and some Republicans said Mrs. Clinton was open to caricature by Republicans as the type of candidate that this election suggested was so damaging to the Democratic Party: a Northeastern, secular liberal.
In addition to Mrs. Clinton, two Democrats from this year - Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, who was Mr. Kerry's running mate, and Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor - are likely to move to wield influence, and perhaps run for president themselves.
Both men are burdened by their own losses this year. And in one disadvantage for Mr. Edwards, several party officials said there would likely be renewed hesitancy to run a member of Congress for the presidency, given the success the White House had undercutting Mr. Kerry's credibility with votes he had cast.
So the other Democrats mentioned as either high-profile leaders and possible presidential candidates are all governors; Mr. Warner, Mr. Richardson, Ms. Napolitano, as well as Phil Bredesen of Tennessee, Michael F. Easley of North Carolina and Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois.
Party officials said that the results of this election underscored what had appeared to be the case in 2002. Republicans have now surpassed the Democrats in registering and turning out the voters.
Coming off this election, Democratic officials said they were concerned that the party's ideological and geographical appeal is shrinking after looking at an election night map blazing with red states. They said that while Mr. Kerry might have been technically right in saying that a presidential candidate could win without competing in the South, the party would stumble unless it broadened its support.
"We must be a 50-state national party," said the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson. "We must take on the South, reach more working poor people."
Ms. Napolitano, who in an interview over the summer expressed confidence that Mr. Kerry would win her state (he lost it by 11 percentage points), said: "You can't write off everything from Atlanta to California. You've got to find some beachheads there. Obviously it's going to be more uphill than we thought."
Some party leaders cautioned against glumness, noting that Mr. Kerry had come within 3 percentage points of defeating Mr. Bush, a wartime president. But other Democrats argued that the party had as strong a chance for victory as it could have hoped for, and argued that the loss presaged a period of Republican domination.
"We are in a tremendous amount of trouble," said Gordon Fischer, the Iowa Democratic chairman. "There are fundamental problems not only with the candidates, but also our tactics and the message: Who Democrats are and what we believe."
Most of all, though, party leaders said the main challenge now was coming up with a compelling case to make to voters, to counter what they acknowledged was the clear message Mr. Bush had made. Mr. Warner, reflecting what has been a theme of his governorship in Virginia, said Democrats should seek to present themselves as the party of fiscal responsibility by attacking Republicans for growing deficits.
Al From, the head of the Democratic Leadership Council, a group of moderate Democrats, said that the party made a mistake by spending too much time on getting out the vote and that the way to win an election was to come up with a message the way Mr. Clinton did in 1992.
"This is the second election in a row where they got a majority of the popular vote, because they did in 2002," he said. "A mobilization strategy, while important, is clearly not the most important thing. We need to persuade people who would otherwise vote for them to vote for us. And you do that with good ideas.''
Judging by first reactions, they're headed down that same road that lead to that same cliff that the lemmings and the buffalo used.
The Dems will have to get out,all over the US,and find out how people really feel. They never do that.
Many of them are entrenched in the liberalism of academia and they don't have a CLUE about most Americans.
Talk about somebody who doesn't get it!
I am for anything that will shut them up for awhile.
They already have that message Jen. We don't believe them.
BTW you're out in a couple of years. I'm sick of living in a blue state.
It wasn't just the message...it was also the messengers!
Gov. Janet Napolitano, Democrat of Arizona, where Mr. Kerry made a failed effort to grasp from the Republican column, said: "We need a fresh reassessment of how we communicate with people. . . . How did a party that is filled with people with values - and I am a person with values - get tagged as the party without values?"
Now, let's see, how could that be? Maybe it has something to do with a President who unippered his pants in the Oval office? No, couldn't be. Afterall, isn't that pretty standard behavior in Hollywood? Maybe it has something to do with a Presidential candidate who owns severn, count them, seven houses, and yet talks about taking care of the "poor". Naw, that can't be it. Or maybe it has something to do with a candidate who says he's a Catholic but supports abortion. Or, maybe it has something to do with the stellar example of marital bliss that the Clintons exemplify - afterall, so many "normal" Americans can really relate to that......
Or maybe it's just that old fashioned idea that you live life simply and honestly and do your best......but then, that isn't "sophisticated" enough for the Democrats...
---Gov. Janet Napolitano, Democrat of Arizona, where Mr. Kerry made a failed effort to grasp from the Republican column, said: "We need a fresh reassessment of how we communicate with people. . . . How did a party that is filled with people with values - and I am a person with values - get tagged as the party without values?"---
We all agree that the Dims are full of it, Janet. Eleanor Clift was saying a similar thing: that the Dims needed to start talking differently about values. Translation: the Democrats need to refine their camouflage and lying skills.
"Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm, Democrat of Michigan, said that in order to be competitive with Republicans, Democrats had to have a message that was ''strong and strongly pro-work, pro-responsibility, pro-duty, pro-service, pro-child, pro-seniors." "
Interesting she would say this considering that her actions and words and that of her Party have been everything BUT! If what she says were true (not) she would make it easy on herself and just switch to the Republicans.
What is it good for?
I suppose it depends you your definition of values. To a Democrat Values mean leaning to the left, believing that the only ones with the right to freedom are on the left and that everyone else is a moron and shouldn't be heard or seen. They value the fact that as long as the constitution is in effect in this country they won't be able to tell everyone how to think, so they value the idea of trashing it. These values and a few others like valuing dead babies because they can be used for research are their idea of "values". Mine happen to be a different set of values, but I don't think they want to hear mine.
They need to concentrate on the living voters, not the dead and non-exsistent. Spend more time on the people and their desires in each of the area they are campaigning in, selling themselves, instead of getting hollywood types to entertain them.
Well then they're sunk. When was the last time you heard of a new idea from the democrats? All the new ideas have come from the republicans since Newt started the revolution ... flat tax, national sales tax, individual SS savings accounts, individual medical savings accounts, revamping the military, etc., etc., etc.
Most Democrats appear to care more about advancing the cause of militant homosexuality than about electoral viability. May they get what they deserve.
I see that everyone here fastened on the same quotation, and no wonder.
It depends on the values, Janet. Bush's values involve defending and saving lives. Your values involve taking them. There's a difference.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.