- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 8, 2006

The 2006 elections will be remembered by Democrats as the year they learned from their mistakes, chose candidates who appealed to swing voters and ran against the Iraq war by saying it was “time for a change” in strategy.

From the beginning of the election cycle, the Democrats ran with the tide of public opinion that turned increasingly against the war as U.S. casualties mounted and the violent insurgency grew in intensity.

The old campaign rule that “all politics is local,” a political axiom the Republicans hoped would prove true this year, was swept aside by national issues such as the war and disapproval of President Bush’s handling of the economy.

Although most of the Democrats’ major candidates were traditional party liberals who opposed the Bush tax cuts, many ran to the middle to pick up votes, seeking to define themselves as stronger on national security and more centrist-leaning on fiscal and social issues.

In the Senate race in Pennsylvania, state Treasurer Bob Casey Jr. ran as a pro-life Democrat opposed to abortion and gun control who supported Mr. Bush’s Supreme Court nominees — stances that allowed him to handily knock off incumbent Sen. Rick Santorum, the Republican’s third-ranking member.

Exit polls of 8,344 voters across the country, conducted by the Associated Press and the TV networks, showed that a strong 60 percent majority of them opposed the war in Iraq and only one-third said they thought, as Mr. Bush and Republican candidates argued, that the war was necessary to protect U.S. security in the global war against terrorism.

“Far more voters said national issues mattered more than local issues in their House vote, but there was no difference in how those groups voted in House contests,” the AP reported last night.

The Democratic Party’s strong performance at the polls also was seen as a vindication of the 50-state strategy that Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean implemented two years ago when he put paid party organizers in all the states in an effort to rebuild the party’s long-term infrastructure.

“That’s paid off for us and for the rest of the party,” said Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Refern.

In the 2002 midterm election and 2004 presidential race, Democrats were outmaneuvered by the Republicans’ superior voter turnout operation and by the public’s perception that Democrats could not be trusted with the nation’s national security.

This time, Democrats called for increased spending on the military and poured more money into their voter turnout operation, putting nearly $50 million into their ground game to identify voters and get them to the polls.

Democratic Party officials said it was the first time in years that they were able to compete with Republicans voter-for-voter.

The Republicans, by contrast, spent $30 million, though they had invested millions more during the previous two years in building up their voter lists and microtargeting strategy.

Democrats said they also were helped this year by an increasingly anti-Republican environment as a result of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal that snared several Republican lawmakers, and the House page scandal that forced another GOP lawmaker to resign.

Despite low unemployment, falling gas prices and a booming stock market, Republicans have been unable to change the perception of a struggling economy that was a major factor in their congressional losses, Exit polls yesterday found that eight in 10 voters said the economy was very important to how they voted.

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