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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The myths of 2004

Deflating the Myths of 2004
By Thomas F. Schaller
NYTimes Select, October 30, 2006


With the 2006 midterms around the corner, it’s worth pausing a moment to first clarify the story of the 2004 elections….

The post-election summaries of the state of the two parties were strikingly different. The Democrats and their less-than-inspiring presidential nominee, we were told, were out-smarted, out-strategized, and out-maneuvered by their opponents. President Bush and the Republicans, on the other hand, were blessed with sharper consultants, more agile candidates with firmer backbones, a more substantial political infrastructure, less party infighting, and delivered a clearer and simpler message about the ideals and issues the party represented.

But there were other, more concrete factors that had already tipped the scales in the Republicans’ favor. By 2004 the Republicans controlled all of both elected branches of the national government, the federal courts, and a majority of governors and state legislative chambers. They benefited as well from a media echo chamber driven by Fox News, 24-hour conservative talk radio, and a battalion of well-funded conservative think tank experts who were willing and able to repeat every talking point and focus group-tested phrase, from “cut and run” (Democrats) to “stay the course” (Republicans).

As an incumbent running for re-election, Bush also had the power of bully pulpit and the luxury of a two-year head start on the Democrats — plenty of time for Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman, the Bush-Cheney ’04 campaign chairman, to build their field campaign in the key states like Ohio.

If these advantages were not enough, the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, provided the president with something that none of his predecessors in half a century could claim: a truly transformative issue. One must go back to at least the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision and the civil rights movement, if not all the way back to the 1929 stock market crash and ensuing Great Depression, to find an episode with the potential to so fundamentally alter the political and partisan landscape.

And what was the result of all of this? Bush picked up three points and Iowa…[because] New Mexico’s five added electors were essentially cancelled out by the four lost in New Hampshire...

Elsewhere on the ballot, the Republicans had to dine on rather thin gruel.

Thanks to five southern Democratic senators retiring at once, the G.O.P. did manage to boost their Senate majority by four seats. But they added a mere three seats in the U.S. House, and would have lost ground had Tom DeLay not used his power to re-redistrict Texas in the middle of the decade. There was no movement in the total share of governors; Republicans picked up Indiana and Missouri; Democrats captured Montana and New Hampshire. And Democrats won the state legislative battle by adding 60 seats nationally, while capturing eight new legislative chamber majorities to just four for the Republicans

So there you have it: Three points plus Iowa in the presidential race, four additional U.S. senators and three House members, no net new governors, and losses in the state legislatures. If that’s a landslide, I’m the starting power forward for the Knicks.

The real story of 2004 is that Bush and the Republicans blew the best opportunity in two generations to alter the partisan landscape in substantial, enduring ways.

posted by Steve @ 10:55:00 AM

10:55:00 AM

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