After sweep, Republicans plan to push conservative agenda

R By Libby George and Andrew Pritchard

republicans capitalized on the public’s concern over terrorism and security in Tuesday’s elections, political analysts say, and when Democrats failed to present an alternative, the Republican Party made major gains in races nationwide.

Both houses of Congress are in Republican hands. Republicans increased their majority in the House by at least four seats, including Minnesota’s 2nd District, where John Kline defeated Democrat Bill Luther.

The House is now at 227 Republicans, 206 Democrats and one independent, with one race still undecided.

Supported by the victory of Minnesota Republican Norm Coleman, Republicans retook the Senate, holding 51 seats to the Democrats’ 47, with one independent senator and one race still undecided.

In Minnesota, Republicans captured the governorship with the election of state House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty.

Republicans increased their numbers as they kept control of the state House, and they hold 31 seats in the Senate against 35 for the DFL and one independent – the most state Senate seats the Republicans have ever held.

Defining issues

in Maryland, Robert Ehrlich became the state’s first Republican governor in 34 years.

James Gimpel, professor of government at the University of Maryland-College Park, said budget deficits in several states helped Republican gubernatorial candidates upset incumbents.

Lana Stein, professor and chairwoman of the political science department at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, agreed with Gimpel.

“The Democrats have held control for 38 years,” she said. “You can blame everything that went wrong on them, and there’s a lot to blame.”

Minnesota gubernatorial candidates assailed Independence Party candidate Tim Penny during the campaign for being associated with an administration that saw the state’s finances fall from a surplus into the red during its four years.

In Missouri, incumbent Democratic Sen. Jean Carnahan was unseated by Republican Jim Talent, and Republicans gained the majority in the state Legislature, which has been dominated by Democrats for decades.

Gimpel said Bush and the now-majority congressional Republicans would speed many of the president’s proposals into law.

“I think George W. Bush is going to read (the election) as a mandate, and he’s probably right to read it as something of a mandate,” he said.

Democrats, Gimpel said, underestimated the effect of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, mistakenly treating them as “some sort of fluke, here and gone.

“In response to Sept. 11, the public is much more hawkish than the Democrats gave them credit for,” he said.

Stein agreed, adding that the Democrats did not put forward enough of their own campaign issues to distract from the popularity of Republicans in the war against terror.

“You have to define an alternative and give people a reason to vote for you,” she said. “The Democrats I don’t think necessarily showed why they would be better, and you have a popular president talking about going after another evil person with evil weapons, and that creates a lot of patriotism.”

During the campaign season, Bush urged voters to elect representatives who would support his security and anti-terrorism plans.

“I don’t know how long the president’s coattails can be, but with this kind of situation where the country is under threat, it can make a huge difference,” Stein said.

Now, the president’s proposals for a Homeland Security Department and terrorism insurance legislation will be enacted quickly, Gimpel said.

“A bunch of things are on the fast track now,” he said.

Gimpel predicted that even Bush proposals unrelated to terrorism such as judicial nominations and permanent tax cuts would be enacted.

“The Democrats are going to have to pick their battles carefully as a minority,” he said. “They can’t be everywhere at once.”

Stein did not agree, saying that although Bush’s judicial nominations would likely pass, issues such as homeland security would not be as easy for the president.

“(Support in the Senate) is not something cohesive that can be guaranteed,” she said. “Judicial appointments will get through, but homeland security is an administrational reorganization.

“There will still be people of both parties who oppose it despite party affiliation,” she said. “Members of Congress do not like change.”

Stein added that other factors, such as war with Iraq and the economy, would also affect how fast tracked Bush’s proposals would be.

“If the economy stays sour Ö people will tend to push in another direction,” she said, adding that if the potential war on Iraq materializes with high casualties, it will have a boomerang effect on Bush’s policies.

Failed referendums

voters defeated traditional Democratic issues in ballot referendums nationwide in Tuesday’s elections.

In Oregon, voters defeated referendums to create a state-funded universal health care system and require special labels for genetically modified food.

Proposals to ease drug laws failed in Arizona, Nevada, Ohio and South Dakota.

In a local referendum, Santa Monica, Calif., voters refused to require a $10.50 per hour minimum wage for tourism-related businesses.

California and Colorado defeated initiatives for same-day voter registration, leaving Minnesota one of only six states with such a law.

Arkansas voters refused to increase animal cruelty penalties, and in Missouri a proposed cigarette tax increase failed.

Washington state voters defeated a gas tax hike.

“It’s not prudent to try these type of measures in uncertain times,” said Initiative and Referendum Institute President Dane Waters.

“It’s not necessarily that people don’t support universal health care or drug reform,” he said. “They just say, ‘Hey, this is not the time to deal with this.’ “

Record turnout

minnesota’s voter turnout was the highest in the nation Tuesday, according to the Washington-based Committee for the Study of the American Electorate.

The committee’s preliminary numbers showed 61.4 percent of eligible Minnesota voters cast ballots.

The Minnesota secretary of state’s Web site reported even higher figures: In statewide races, 74 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, and in the 2nd District congressional race, turnout reached 84 percent.

Minnesota Republican Party Chairman Ron Eibensteiner said candidates’ clarity on issues drove the high turnout.

“When I heard yesterday afternoon that turnout was sky-high, I was happy,” he said. “For the first time in a long, long time we had candidates who could articulate their views. That helped all the way down the ticket.”

Before the election, Democratic Party Chairman Mike Erlandson told the Star Tribune the party would turn out a “grassroots army like we’ve never seen” to encourage voters to participate.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.