When All Is Said and Done, It’s a GOP Stunner

Posted November 3, 2004 at 3:45pm

Middle America 1, Hollywood 0. Republicans swept to victory Tuesday on the strength of conservative and Republican voters who more than offset a surge in Democratic turnout.

In Ohio, Democratic voters went to the polls in droves, increasing their party’s margins over 2000 in both Cuyahoga and Franklin counties. [IMGCAP(1)]

Cleveland-based Cuyahoga County, which Al Gore won by 166,000 votes four years ago, went for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) by 218,000 — an extra margin of 52,000 for the Democrat. In Columbus-based Franklin County, Gore’s 4,000-vote majority turned into a stunning 40,000-vote majority for Kerry — a gain of 36,000 votes.

In bellwether Canton-based Stark County, President Bush’s 2,800-vote victory four years ago turned into a 2,500-vote win for Kerry.

All of those returns appeared to presage a Kerry statewide win. But big GOP wins in suburban and rural areas helped win Ohio for Bush.

Bush increased his margins in a number of southwestern Ohio counties, including Warren (an additional 12,000 votes over Bush’s 2000 victory), Butler (another additional 12,000-vote victory) and Greene (an additional 5,000 votes compared to the president’s showing four years ago).

But it wasn’t only in Ohio that the GOP vote turned out. In Iowa, Bush put himself in the position to declare victory by rolling up larger margins than he did in 2000 in northwest and southwest Iowa, the most Republican areas of the state.

In Pottawattamie County, for example, Bush’s 4,000-vote victory margin in 2000 grew to 7,100 votes this time. In Sioux, Bush’s margin grew by 1,800 votes, and in Osceola, it increased by 1,200.

Across the country (including Florida), Democrats did a good job increasing their base vote. But the Republicans did what they needed to in order to offset that Democratic increase by turning out their own base.

The first time you hear a critic of Kerry argue that the Senator failed to energize Democrats or made a mistake by waffling on the war, tell him or her to get real. Kerry got almost every Democratic vote out there. There just weren’t enough of them to beat Bush. Howard Dean wouldn’t have done any better. He probably would have done much worse.

If Bush’s victory was impressive, the GOP showing in Senate races was stunningly good.

Republican Senate candidates everywhere but Colorado did about as well as anyone could have expected, and maybe even better.

Republican David Vitter’s 51 percent win in Louisiana is perhaps the most impressive given his party’s history of failing to win Senate races in the state. But across the country, Republican Senate candidates took advantage of favorable terrain to fashion reasonably solid wins in good Republican states.

Democrats Brad Carson in Oklahoma, Inez Tenenbaum in South Carolina, Dan Mongiardo in Kentucky and Erskine Bowles in North Carolina all ran ahead of Kerry in their states, but were unable to overcome their party labels.

Bush’s relatively narrow 7-point win in Colorado — much less than most of the other states with competitive Senate contests — wasn’t enough to help pull Pete Coors (R) over the finish line ahead of Ken Salazar (D).

Democrats such as Tenenbaum and Missouri’s Nancy Farmer should have learned an important lesson — winning downballot state offices isn’t proof that you can win a high-profile federal race.

The GOP momentum was so strong that even Sen. Jim Bunning (Ky.) was unable to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory. And Tom Coburn (Okla.) and Jim DeMint (S.C.), who a week earlier seemed to be in a battle for their political lives, ultimately racked up rather comfortable double-digit victories.

Over in the House, Democrats knocked off more than a dozen GOP House incumbents … oh, sorry, that didn’t happen, did it? That’s what Rep. Robert Matsui (D), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said might happen, didn’t he? Well, I guess that didn’t quite pan out.

Democrats took over the House. … Oh, sorry again, that didn’t happen either, did it? But wasn’t that what Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the House Minority Leader, promised when she staked her reputation on a big Democratic win?

In fact, the House was a virtual wash, with veteran Rep. Phil Crane (R-Ill.), vulnerable freshman Max Burns (R-Ga.) and, quite possibly, Baron Hill (D-Ind.) the only incumbents to go down to defeat outside Texas. Inside the Lone Star State, House Democrats took a drubbing, as everyone predicted.

So where do the Democrats go now? Congressional Democrats aim for 2006, knowing that, finally, history is on their side. If they can’t score significant House and Senate gains during the second midterm election of George W. Bush, they never will.

For now, we can all forget that talk about young voters, about Michael Moore and Bruce Springsteen mobilizing Democrats, about new voters changing the face of politics and about “re-defeating” Bush. It’s four more years … until Hillary runs.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.