Wednesday, November 9, 2005

Democrats yesterday said that their Election Day victories Tuesday signaled future gains for their party in 2006, an assertion Republicans say they heard in November 2001 — before the GOP went on to strengthen its majority in Congress the next year.

As political strategists analyzed the results of yesterday’s gubernatorial elections, searching for clues about how the voters responded to the issues that fueled the campaigns, both parties tried to put the best political spin they could on the outcome and what it might portend in next year’s national midterm races.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said the Democratic victories in New Jersey and Virginia had given his party “a real shot in the arm for Democratic efforts to take back the House and Senate in 2006.”

But Republican strategists recalled yesterday that Democrats made the very same forecast four years ago when they won gubernatorial elections in both states in the off-year elections, only to see Republicans make sizable House and Senate gains and maintain their majority among the nation’s governors in the 2002 elections.

Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman said the election results were in no way an indication that Republicans would lose seats next year, nor did it reflect a backlash against the GOP or President Bush and his policies.

“This is a status-quo Election Day” that did not change the political division among the nation’s governors, Mr. Mehlman said. “The fact is there were 28 Republican governors before the election, and there were 28 Republican governors after the election.”

Even so, the two state losses took place in a political environment in which Mr. Bush’s approval ratings in the polls have fallen to less than 40 percent, the lowest of his presidency, with his party’s voter-preference polls falling even further. And Democrats said their victories were in large part a result of the voters’ sending Mr. Bush a message.

“Unless George Bush reverses his policies and reaches to the middle, you’re going to see many more victories like this,” Mr. Schumer told the Associated Press.

But the White House yesterday played down the losses.

“These elections, if you look at the facts, were based on state and local issues and on the candidates, their views and their agendas,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. “The Democratic party has no vision and no agenda to offer at the national level. All they can do is say what they are against.”

However, centrist Democrats who want their party to steer a middle political course saw Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s election as governor of Virginia as the recipe for future gubernatorial victories.

Jon Cowan, president of Third Way, a Democratic advocacy group that is urging its party to move toward the center, saw two messages in the Virginia election.

“The first is that a moderate Democrat carrying a centrist new Democratic message has a serious shot at winning in a [Republican] red state. The second is that Virginia voters, in effect, wanted a continuation of Gov. [Mark] Warner’s legacy” of more centrist Democratic policies, he said.

• Brian A. DeBose contributed to this report.

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