November 7, 2008
By Brian Hughes
Scripps Howard Foundation Wire
WASHINGTON - A day after his party snatched back the White House and padded majorities in both the House and Senate, Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean had no time to bask in the victory. The question of the hour: What now?
A sleep-deprived Dean tussled Wednesday with his Republican counterpart, Mike Duncan, arguing that President-elect Barack Obama and the Democrat-bolstered Congress now has a mandate from the American people.
Declaring the election a referendum on President George W. Bush, Dean said the election marked a shift in the makeup of the electorate, reflecting a more moderate and younger base.
“We think this is a country that is right down the middle,” he said, later adding the election was not a drastic mandate of New Deal proportions but one for common-sense solutions.
“Could you please stop fighting about things you can’t agree on and do something about things you agree on?” he said was the voters’ message.
Presidential candidates often tout unity following election, as Obama did in his speech in front of more than 200,000 people in Chicago, but that is no guarantee they will follow through.
Obama need only look to Democratic President Bill Clinton to see the effect of straying too far from the center. Republicans took back Congress in 1994 just two years after Clinton won the oval office, in large part because the public thought his agenda was too liberal.
This time around, Democrats picked up at least five Senate seats, 18 House seats and eight states Bush carried in 2004.
But Duncan said the pendulum could swing back to Republicans in the 2010 midterm election.
“This is still a center-right country,” he said, adding that Obama won because he adopted more moderate positions on tax cuts, merit pay for teachers and offshore drilling, among other stances.
“Barack Obama just ran the most successful moderate Republican campaign since Dwight Eisenhower,” he proclaimed.
The scene at the National Press club Wednesday was a flip-flop from 2004, when Bush won a narrow re-election and Republicans picked up seats in both houses of Congress.
In fact, former DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe didn’t make it to the same event four years ago. But Duncan showed up Wednesday, a feat even Dean appreciated.
“It hurts too bad to laugh, and I’m too big to cry,” Duncan said of the results, referencing the famous saying of President Abraham Lincoln.
He said the Republican Party was not dead but the victim of circumstances. Duncan pointed to an unpopular war in Iraq and the meltdown on Wall Street rather than a skewed philosophy.
He said Republicans need to “take a deep breath” and try to keep the Democratic-controlled congress in check.
Duncan pointed to vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, 44, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, 37, and a host of other young elected officials as the future of the party.
While he wasn’t too interested in replaying the nearly two-year primary, Dean touted Obama’s 50-state strategy, an expansion of the one he employed in his unsuccessful presidential bid four years ago.
Obama won Republican stronghold Virginia and forced John McCain to spend resources on deep-red states like Georgia, recently considered an afterthought for the GOP.
Previous nominees Al Gore and John Kerry were dependent on carrying battleground states Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
“I said the Democratic Party had run its last 18-state presidential campaign,” Dean said.
Democrats enjoyed a huge financial advantage this time around, as Obama opted out of public campaign financing to build a massive war chest.
Duncan said Obama’s fundraising success means no future presidential candidate will take federal dollars. Dean wasn’t willing to go that far, but both noted the increase in small-dollar donations from millions of people.
However, Dean attributed victory not just to money but also to a grassroots get-out-the-vote campaign, something he admitted Republicans had traditionally dominated.
“We can argue about how well they run the country,” Dean quipped. “But they certainly know how to run elections.”