Friday, November 9, 2001

House Democratic leaders say Tuesday’s election results prove their party can win in the suburbs and rural South key elements to winning the six seats they need in next year’s elections in order to control the House.
Their confidence stems from four things the fact that since the Civil War the president’s party almost always loses seats in off-year elections, their belief that the president’s popularity won’t help Republicans, their candidates’ ability to find messages that resonate and Republican candidates’ failure to find their own successful messages.
“The now-traditional Republican campaign issues of tax cuts and cultural issues are no longer effective,” said House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, at a briefing with reporters yesterday.
He said the “issues environment” now favors Democrats, with people concerned about health care, job growth and education.
Democrats won the governorships in New Jersey and Virginia Tuesday, as well as 32 of the 34 mayor’s races they targeted. They also won majorities in several state assemblies and now control more assemblies than Republicans, said Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe.
But Republicans counter that national issues weren’t at stake Tuesday, and caution against reading a national message into the elections. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican and chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said the races revolved around local issues and local candidates.
And Virginia produced one piece of particularly good news for Republicans the party gained 12 seats in the state’s House of Delegates, extending control to 64 of the chamber’s 100 seats. And almost all of those gains came from Republicans winning open seats that had been redrawn this year based on the 2000 census.
Mr. Davis has predicted a net gain of 8-to-10 seats for Republicans through redistricting. He expects big gains in Michigan, Florida and Texas, in particular. Added to their existing six-seat majority, that would give Republicans a safety margin of about 15 seats going into the election.
But Rep. Martin Frost, Texas Democrat and head of his party’s redistricting task force, said ongoing lawsuits may disrupt Republican-drawn plans in those states.
He said the process will produce at most only a few seats gained for Republicans and could end up a wash.
Mr. Davis said 18 states have completed redistricting, three states’ plans are being drawn by courts and 22 states haven’t finalized plans. The other states have only one representative each.
As for the president’s coattails, Republicans said the election proves nothing their post-election surveys showed that 80 percent of voters in both New Jersey and Virginia said their vote wasn’t intended as a message to the president.
But Democrats said if the president wasn’t a drag on candidates this year, he also won’t be much help next year. Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, said the president is in essence two persons now the war-fighting president people are rallying around, and the domestic president whose approval ratings aren’t as high.
One Democratic strategy is clear: To go after a list of Republican incumbents based on their votes for the recent economic-stimulus package and the airport-security bill.
Last week the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent out press releases targeting 37 members who voted with Republican leadership against federalizing airport security, and promised that the vote will be an issue in next year’s elections. Mr. Gephardt yesterday said he doesn’t think that vote will control voters next year; he predicted it’s another sign of a tenor in governing that voters will reject.

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