- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 6, 2002


The White House could finally take a deep breath last night. The Democrats failed to deliver on threats to exact midterm "revenge" against President Bush for taking Florida, and the presidency, away from Al Gore in 2000.
Gov. Jeb Bush, the president's brother, won a smashing re-election victory. Katherine Harris, who as the Florida secretary of state certified the Bush victory in the state and became a particular villain for Democrats, won a seat in Congress.
The Republican victory in Florida two Novembers ago was meant to become, in the description of Gore campaign manager Tony Coelho, "the rallying cry" for Democrats, who would "get our revenge in 2002."
Only three days ago, Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, professed to be confident of a Florida blowout for his party. "There are lines already, huge lines, people, a record vote coming out in Florida," he told NBC's Tim Russert. "We are going to win Florida, which is going to set us up, Tim, very nicely for 2004."
The threats and boasts, widely echoed by other Democrats, came to naught.
"Over time, the raw feelings of the Florida recount receded, and people took a second look at George W. Bush and liked what they saw," said Ralph Reed, chairman of the state GOP in Georgia, where Republicans celebrated Rep. Saxby Chambliss' defeat of Sen. Max Cleland, the Democratic incumbent.
Democrats got no revenge in Texas, the president's home state, where Republican candidates for governor and the U.S. Senate were solid winners. The statewide Republican triumphs defied earlier Democratic threats to embarrass the president in his home state.
"Our base turnout should be even stronger in 2002 as Texas Democrats register their support for a strong statewide ticket and their protests over the way Republicans were allowed back into the White House and the governor's mansion this year," Texas Democratic Chairman Molly Beth Malcolm said when the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to end the Florida recounts in December 2000.
Instead, Gov. Rick Perry won re-election handily. Attorney General John Cornyn, the Republican candidate to replace retiring Sen. Phil Gramm, scored a strong victory over Democrat Ron Kirk.
Nor was the ghost of the 2000 Florida recount found in Congress. The GOP avoided the loss of seats that the president's party usually suffers two years after winning the White House. It appeared from early returns that the president's party would retain control of the House, and would suffer no more than minimal losses in the Senate.
"The desire for revenge dissipated when [Democrats] realized that the only way to success was for them to bond themselves to the very president they had sworn to defeat," said Virginia Republican Party Chairman Gary Thomson. "As for his brother Jeb, they had made him their prime target missed."
The absence of voter anger toward Mr. Bush for having "stolen" the 2000 elections was evident throughout the campaigns that ended yesterday. The politics of the 2004 presidential campaign was one factor that robbed Democrats' or at least many of their leaders in Congress of that ardor for revenge in yesterday's elections.
House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota both angling for the Democratic presidential nomination abandoned or downplayed earlier opposition to the most popular items on Mr. Bush's domestic and foreign-policy agenda.
Far from running against Mr. Bush, Democratic candidates at all levels nearly everywhere went out of their way to identify with the popular Republican president and his policies on tax cuts, education reform, national security and foreign policy.
Television commercials by some Democrats showed them standing loyally at Mr. Bush's side. Mr. Daschle aired an ad for his political action committee that declared: "Tom Daschle working with the president to fight terrorism and strengthen national security."
One ad showed the president congratulating Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, for helping enact Mr. Bush's tax cuts.
Another had Missouri Sen. Jean Carnahan boasting about her "quality classrooms proposals, signed into law by President Bush, so our local schools can hire reading and math specialists and enforce classroom discipline."
In Georgia, Mr. Cleland ran a TV commercial declaring that he had "reached across party lines to find a consensus to pass the president's tax cut," and depicted the Democratic senator meeting with Mr. Bush.
Democrats did appear to be on the way to making significant gains in governorships. "We won the governorships because our candidates were solid on fiscal responsibility, the economy, jobs, health care, Social Security, prescription drugs," said Maria Cardona, the Democratic National Committee communications director. "They really laid out a vision for the voters of the states who have been strapped by the dismal fiscal polices of the Bush administration."
She said Democratic governors were on their way to winning "in states that were Republican and that President Bush had won two years ago."
In 1994, Republicans had elected 32 governors. That number had declined to 29 going into yesterday's elections, and when all the votes are counted, Republicans probably will hold fewer than half of the governorships.
Several factors combined to do this. The economy's relatively poor performance has squeezed the states financially and put many of them in severe financial straits. Resulting service cutbacks or tax increases or both put many of them in the red and weakened incumbent governors. Since most of them were Republicans, that boded ill for the president's party.
In several big states, Republican governors had been around for many years and voters were open to a change.
It is not clear how advantage will accrue to the party holding most of the governorships. A presidential candidate is often thought to hold an advantage in states with a governor from his own party, but such a correlation between governorships and presidential victory is often hard to detect. In 1996, for example, Republicans held 30 governorships, but Democrat Bill Clinton won re-election. In the 2000 presidential contest, Republicans won 10 states with Democratic governors and Democrats won nine states held by Republican governors.
Democrats argue that under the new campaign-finance regulations, governors and their organizations can facilitate the flow of "soft money," and this is where the power in presidential campaigns will reside.

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