Sunday, November 10, 2002

Winning voters back

Let's face it; the Dems just blew it


The wringing of hands, the second-guessing, the recriminations, the what ifs - new versions of the same old song.

This time it's being sung by Democrats trying to make sense of the national drubbing many of their candidates suffered last week.

Other times it's been the Republicans' sad old tune.

"Where did we go wrong?" the party strategists ask. "What were voters thinking when they voted against our candidates, our expectations?"

Perhaps, if they're lucky, the politicos learn from the failures in time for the next elections.

They'd do well to read the moods of the new no-shows, those who usually vote but didn't this time.

Nationwide, 61 percent of registered voters declined to vote Tuesday. In Ohio, 54 percent didn't vote; in Kentucky 57 percent abstained.

Democratic no-shows

Democratic voters were more likely to stay home than were Republicans, said Curtis Gans of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate.

"This has happened in the last three midterms," he said. "The Democratic Party has been losing allegiance on a steady basis."

A pre-election Gallup poll foresaw Republic voters' greater enthusiasm, projecting a 43 percent turnout among them but a 36 percent presence from Democrats.

San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown explained to the press: "In any campaign, you must first maximize your own strength and then add to it. We've been doing ... the best we can to get swing voters and then assuming our base was there. Well, our base was there, but it was at home and not at the polls."

Black voters, for instance, flouted pundits' expectations that they'd tip Congressional races in the South and the governor's races in Maryland and Florida.

Julian Bond, NAACP chairman, said Democrats "failed to engage African-American voters. They had all the issues on their side: high unemployment, failing pensions, people losing vast sums of money and the stock market crash.

"But the Democrats ... didn't push these issues. Instead they offered pale shadows of what the Republicans were offering, and that just wasn't good enough."

Now Democratic leaders are considering who will replace Dick Gephardt as House Minority Leader. They're also rethinking their party's mission.

Should the party shift more to the left and adopt a more distinctively liberal platform? Or should it stay its centrist course, steered most successfully by former President Clinton?

The Republicans asked themselves similar questions in the 1990s, when they lost midterm elections. Should they list to the right, or resist the pull of the Moral Majority and pursue middle-ground politics?

They picked the middle ground.

The soul of the party

That's not a viable option for Democrats. Not if they want to unseat President Bush, whose drumbeat for war has successfully drowned out people's qualms about the economy and corporate corruption.

The middle ground is shrinking, as President Bush prepares to make his gift to the rich - a $1.35 trillion tax cut over 10 years - permanent.

And as he tries to privatize part of Social Security and to let his energy company constituents drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Democrats will have to stand up to him - and thus stand for something.

As Al Gore told ABC News, "The Democrats have to be the loyal opposition in fact and not just name."

If Democrats put some passion back into their platform, disaffected voters will return.

E-mail or phone 768-8395.

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