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Is the red post-election tinge a mandate? Don't bet on it.

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Considering the 2004 campaign without the presidential race is a bit like considering your meal without the entrée, but - for the moment anyway - let's do it. Looking at the various side dishes that accompanied our main course, what exactly do we see when we look at Tuesday night?

Well, at first glance it appears that whatever it is, it certainly is red - deep Republican red. The GOP picked up three seats in the Senate and four seats in the House.

And in 11 of 11 states, bans against gay marriages were approved. Put that together with the popular vote margin President Bush had in his presumed victory in the big race, and you have the makings of a mandate, right?

That is certainly the way you can expect it to be spun in the next few days. If it isn't put in the marching-to-victory frame by the Republican messagemakers over at party headquarters in the next few days, we can only assume someone is asleep and probably about to be fired.

But when you look at the results a little closer you see, well, not much really.

Let's start with the Senate. The GOP has to be happy with a net gain of four seats. It makes filibusters more difficult and inches them closer to the magic number of 60 votes. But consider for a second the places where seats turned - North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, South Dakota, and possibly Florida.

You can try to paint that as the beginning of a mandate, but it is better described as the final falling out of party realignments that began long ago. All those states went for Mr. Bush and, except for Florida, they did it by wide margins. Defeating Minority Leader Tom Daschle in South Dakota is nice for bragging rights, but not worth more than any other seat in reality. And in Florida, the Republican candidate, former Bush administration official Mel Martinez, leads but by much less than Bush won the state. Mr. Martinez was aided by the fact that he is Cuban-American, a huge plus with the Hispanic population of Florida.

At the same time, the GOP lost its Senate seat in Illinois - a seat that naturally realigned to Democrats - and its seat in Colorado, which tilts between the two parties.

In the House, four seats is clearly better than no seats or a loss of seats, but considering the popular vote win by the president it's hardly spectacular, or even very good. Consider that in Texas alone four Democratic incumbents lost largely due to redistricting following the 2000 Census. Again, welcome to the realignment of the states.


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