- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 6, 2003

Don’t tell Republicans that Tuesday was an “off-year” election.The last time Kentucky elected a Republican governor, Lyndon Johnson was president. It has a new one in former fighter pilot, ordained minister and family doctor (is that a resume, or what?) Ernie Fletcher.

Mississippi, which has gone Republican in recent years after many decades as a reliable Democratic Party stronghold, elected former Republican National Chairman Haley Barbour governor. Mr. Barbour beat incumbent Ronnie Musgrove by 8 percentage points, though Mr. Musgrove labeled the Yazoo City native a “Washington insider. ”

President Bush, who campaigned for both Mr. Barbour and Mr. Fletcher, is entitled to claim some credit for these victories. Does this mean he could have “coattails” in the presidential election, just one year away? He and his party hope so.

The cause for Republican optimism is not only the improving economy and hope that by next November Iraq might be a more peaceful nation, but the retirement of so many prominent Democrats from the Senate where many of the president’s judicial nominees have been tied up by Democrat filibusters.

Gone after the next election will be John Edwards of North Carolina, Fritz Hollings of South Carolina, Bob Graham of Florida and Zell Miller of Georgia. Mr. Miller has been providing Republicans with campaign commercial sound bites as he chastises his party for its attachment to liberal special interest groups, which has turned off many Southern Democrats. Mr. Miller says he’ll vote for President Bush next year. He has never voted for a Republican for president but will do so this time because he thinks Mr. Bush is doing a good job, and he doesn’t like any of the nine Democratic candidates.

If Republicans win all or most of the open Senate seats, and keep every incumbent seat, they could have a filibuster-proof majority, allowing President Bush to get his mostly conservative (that means they believe what the Constitution says, not what judges think it should mean) judicial nominees confirmed. This would do more to reverse 40 years of court-imposed liberalism than any other act, because liberal Democrats have mostly advanced their agenda through the courts and not through the Congress, as the Founding Fathers intended. Having lived by the courts for four decades, Democrats will not have a philosophical leg to stand on when their ideology dies by the courts.

The Republican victories in Kentucky and Mississippi, along with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s surprise win in California, mean that when the newest governors are sworn in there will be 29 states, including the four largest (California, Texas, New York and Florida), headed by Republican governors. Sixty percent of the country will live in states with Republican governors. In the last 12 months, the GOP has won governorships in four states that for decades have been dominated by Democrats: Georgia, Maryland, Hawaii and Kentucky. That sounds like a trend to me.

At last Tuesday’s “Rock the Vote” Democratic presidential candidate debate there was talk about their favorite computers (PC or Macintosh beat the “boxers or briefs” question to Gov. Bill Clinton in 1992), but mostly it was about attacking the president with no positive or optimistic proposals from any of the eight candidates who participated. Republicans seem to have grabbed all the ideas and the momentum going into next year’s critical general election. If the economy stays strong and progress is made in Iraq, Democrats may face a bigger blowout than Ronald Reagan’s 1984 re-election sweep.

Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie noted: “The Democratic strategy [against Mr. Fletcher and Mr. Barbour] was negative attacks and tying [the candidates] to President Bush, making the race a referendum on the president’s economic policies. The Democrats had their referendum and got their answer.”

A lot can happen in a year (and it usually does), but after last Tuesday’s “on year” (for Republicans) election, if Democrats were compared to a mutual fund, right now they’d look like Putnam.

Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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