Changing of the Guard: Democrats Win Key Elections

Dan Murphy

The Republican Party is a mess. The gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia should be early warning signs for conservatives who have a lot at stake in next year’s midterm elections. Although New Jersey is a solid blue state, the Democratic Party has been mired in scandal for years. In 2002, Senator Robert Torricelli dropped out of his race for reelection amid corruption charges. Last year, then-Governor James McGreevy resigned from his post after allegations of a same sex extra-marital affair with an aide. Even before his resignation, McGreevy’s administration was plagued with scandal and corruption.

With all of the trouble New Jersey Democrats have gotten themselves into, Republican candidate Doug Forrester should have easily won. Forrester even received the endorsements of two influential newspapers, The Bergen Record and the Newark Star-Ledger – both known for their liberal leanings. But when the election results came out, Senator Jon Corzine was the victor with 53 percent of the vote to Forrester’s 43 percent.

Voters in Virginia, a reliable red state that gave President Bush 54 percent of the vote last year, elected Democrat Timothy Kaine. Kaine received 52 percent of the vote while his opponent, Jerry Kilgore, got 46 percent. A traditionally conservative state, Virginia’s gubernatorial elections signal a growing disenchantment with the Republican base. Poll numbers for President Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress have sat at low levels for the majority of this year. The question remains, will this backlash against the Republican Party will carry through to next year’s elections?

One year in the world of politics is a very long time. Events like the Iraq War, the Libby Indictment, fuel prices and the economy will dictate a lot of what happens in 2006. Because this election will be in some way a referendum on the President, Congressional Republicans will likely pay a heavy price if Bush’s policies and scandals continue their downward spirals.

In Iraq, President Bush is in a no-win political situation. With a mounting death toll of over 2,000, public opinion has turned against the war. Militarily, Iraq is not secure and the insurgency is still disrupting life for Iraqis. If President Bush begins withdrawing troops from Iraq, he might receive a political bounce, but it will come at the expense of his legacy. Bush gambled his presidency on toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime and installing a democracy in the heart of the Middle East. If he succumbs to political pressure by withdrawing troops before Iraq is stabilized, the war will be deemed a colossal failure, both in terms of lives lost and money spent.

Voters care more about the loss of American lives in Iraq than they do about establishing a democratic stronghold in the Middle East. Most polls indicate that the majority of Americans want to see a reduction of troops in Iraq. It’s important to note that if Iraq falls into chaos when our troops pull out, it could very well turn into the haven for Al-Qaeda that Afghanistan was for so many years.

To make matters worse for the President and Congress, the trial of Dick Cheney’s former Chief of Staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, will be in full swing by next spring. If this trial is like any other high profile trial, it will be dragged out and analyzed incessantly by the media. If White House deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove is indicted, Republicans will have yet another headache to deal with. This bad press will surely dog the administration’s efforts to promote the Republican Party in 2006.

But maybe all of these issues won’t matter. Voters often get tired with the majority party. Republicans have controlled Congress for a little over 10 years and now have finally felt some major backlash in the polls. The Tom DeLay trial won’t help the Republicans restore their integrity – if they had any to begin with. Since I’m all about making predictions, I think that Congress will go Democratic in 2006, but not because of some brilliant ideas the party will unite behind. The Democrats will win simply because the Republicans have been so arrogant and so incompetent over the years.