- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 9, 2006

It makes a freedom lover’s heart skip a few extra beats to see thousands of people standing in long lines on a chilly, rainy night, waiting to be part of something far more important than a movie premiere or being first in line for the newest electronic toy.

Exactly what burning issues drove impassioned voters to the polls in herds for these midterm elections Tuesday will be debated for weeks, but the answer may be more deceptive than discontent with the Iraq war or an unpopular president.

When the “Happy Days Are Here Again” cheering stops, the votes are certified and all the exit polls are analyzed, you will discover an unmistakable message Americans are trying to send to their representatives regardless of party affiliation.

Indeed, the American electorate’s angry sentiments can be embodied in the “Network” movie anchor’s screed: “I’m mad … and I’m not going to take it anymore.” Why are voters so mad on the national and local levels that they oust a long-standing politician in Virginia and reject Republicans en masse in Maryland? That deep-seated anger arises first from a feeling of disrespect, then distrust, on the basic bread-and-butter issues affecting everyday working Americans. Too many well-heeled politicians continually ignored the resentment over the growing economic gap and the failure to deliver when and where citizens need government services most.

For example, is there a Katrina factor affecting the outcome of these elections? The Republican Party either forgot its covenant with “the American people,” as even some Republicans have suggested, or it lost sight of its core working-class constituency, as some political observers contend.

Clinton activist Rodamase Cabrera pointed out that most Washington-area voters are either government workers or have government contracts.

“They stood in line because they wanted to send [President] Bush and the Republicans a message,” he said. Further, this party operative predicted that the “Democratic tsunami” in Maryland portends the “death of the Republican Party in the state.”

Even Virginia is no longer assured for Republicans “if we look toward 2008.” Maybe, maybe not, but there is a definite difference between a liberal Democrat in Maryland and a centrist Democrat in Virginia.

The voters waiting long after the polls closed in Prince George’s County and Northern Virginia brought tears to the eyes of Lawrence Guyot, a retired D.C. government worker who was among those who risked his life for voting rights.

“There was a national belief that there was a need for a change, and [those voters] were determined that they were going to be a part of bringing that change,” he said, “a change that relates to the policy on war, and a fundamental distrust in the government impacting in private lives but not addressing problems that people think are important to them like education, Social Security, health care and employment.”

He agreed with Mr. Cabrera. “This vote was about the removal of the right wing’s control of the federal government,” Mr. Guyot said. Yet, he offered a necessary caution: “Now, the Democrats are going to have to make their case.”

One of those Democrats who will have to deliver immediately on the Democrats’ promises to help “working families” will be Sen.-elect James H. Webb Jr. of Virginia.

The impact of that growing economic gap was downplayed during the campaign but is evident in the results of the Senate race. Mr. Webb eked out a slim victory over Republican Sen. George Allen, prevailing in Republican strongholds in addition to traditional Democratic blocs.

Mr. Webb’s emphasis on the “Three Americas” — wherein the economic disparity between rich and poor whites is the biggest it has been in three decades — obviously resonated with the so-called “NASCAR crowd,” as Mr. Cabrera called them, and where Mr. Allen saw slippage.

“We all want to [hurt] the rich because they [hurt] us,” Mr. Cabrera, who is black, said of the economic policies under Mr. Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress.

Last month, when I questioned Mr. Webb briefly after an appearance in Alexandria, the former Republican acknowledged that, as a Democrat, he was having the hardest time winning over married white men. Working-class white men, especially in the southwestern corner of the state, have been as hard hit by rising gas prices, health care costs and war casualties as their minority counterparts.

Mr. Webb, who harped on the theme of wanting to represent “the voiceless,” vowed to fight for raising the minimum wage, some type of universal health care, an increase in assistance for college loans and closing corporate loopholes. Like most Democrats, he argued that it was not fair to give large tax breaks to the wealthy.

He dismissed critics who accused him of fueling class warfare, saying he was going “to speak truth to power” if elected.

The Vietnam War veteran also made the analogy that when he was in the Navy, a corporate chief executive earned a salary 40 times higher than his fellow sailors. Today, a corporate CEO earns 400 times as much as his son serving in Iraq.

Yes, the war is of paramount importance to voters. But commonly shared pocketbook issues cannot be discounted as the reason so many angry voters in Maryland, Virginia and all across this nation stood in long lines at polling places shouting to be heard.

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