Certainly, the election results point to a number of serious problems for Democrats. President Bush made small but potentially significant inroads into the Democratic base, gaining a higher percentage of Hispanic votes than in 2000, and reducing the gender gap by winning over more women. He made gains among Catholic and Jewish voters, and even performed better in urban areas, the Democrats' stronghold.
Regionally, the Democrats' strength now seems almost entirely confined to the coasts and pockets of the Midwest. The party is currently without a national leader, having lost its Senate minority leader, Tom Daschle. Democrats were also defeated in every Senate race in the South, suggesting that the party faces growing challenges in trying to compete in that part of the country.
This year, Sen. John Kerry essentially ceded the entire South, aside from a brief flirtation with North Carolina when he put Sen. John Edwards on the ticket, and a last-minute visit by former President Bill Clinton to Arkansas. The Kerry campaign saw more promising territory for picking up electoral votes in the Southwest - states such as New Mexico and Colorado, both of which Kerry wound up losing narrowly. Some Democrats argue this region still represents a better fit for the party as it seeks to expand its base of support. But others say Democrats can't expect to win the White House if they can't compete in the South.
"It's very hard for a Democrat to win when you write off the South completely," says Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University in Atlanta.
If Kerry had managed to carry Ohio, Professor Abramowitz notes, he could have pulled it off. But the strategy left little room for error. And Kerry may have come up short in Ohio, despite the state's economic woes, for the same reason he lost across the South - an inability to connect with culturally conservative voters on values.