With a year to go, a look at the elections

Sunday, November 16, 2003

With slightly less than a year before the quadrennial presidential election, how lies the landscape?

For years now, Republicans have been making historic gains, in Missouri and nationally, but will these be sustained, or rolled back, by a resurgent Democratic Party following after presidential nominee Howard Dean or Richard Gephardt?

Republicans in our neighboring border state of Kentucky just elected only their second GOP governor since the Civil War, and this by more than 100,000 votes in a state where Democrats hold a 14-point edge among registered voters. On the same day, former GOP national chairman Haley Barbour comfortably defeated the incumbent Democratic governor of Mississippi. These follow on the heels of the Oct. 7 Schwarzenegger win in California.

In each of these southern elections, the Democrats didn't have a single national spokesman or leader who could go into these states and do more good than harm. "Stay away," was the message state party honchos delivered to the Clintons, to Al Gore, to Democratic party chief Terry McCauliffe and others. Evidence of ongoing and historic political realignment mounts. Former Clinton pollster Mark Penn, writing last summer, warned that nationally, self-identified Democrats are at their lowest ebb since the dawn of the New Deal, 70 years ago.

Penn isn't the only Democrat doing the warning. Perhaps the most devastating blow to the Democrats' solar plexus was delivered by Georgia Democratic senator Zell Miller, author of the devastating book about the only party he's ever belonged to, "A National Party No More." Sen. Miller warns that former Gov. Dean, the current frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, combines the worst planks of the last two presidential campaigns to be on the painful end of 49- state blowouts: 1. "Peace-at-any-price" bugging out of international commitments (George McGovern, 1972), and 2."I'll be darn sure to raise your taxes" (Walter Mondale, 1984).

Americans watch in amazement as one of our great political parties abandons the American tradition of bipartisanship during wartime and openly roots for things to go wrong in our current war, so as to gain partisan advantage.

And what of domestic policy? Not just Dean, but every Democrat running for president supports repealing all or some of President Bush's tax cuts and raising your taxes. The only dispute: how much more of your income should be extracted.

On the state level, Gov. Bob Holden has spent three years advocating between $700 million and $1 billion in higher taxes, and berating the growing Republican House and Senate majorities for not acceding to his demands. He now bids fair to be the first governor in state history to suffer an ignominious fate: Denial of renomination by his own party.

On global economic issues, where is the Democrat who will challenge Richard Gephardt, as he explains to us all how shutting down international trade will make us all rich? Then there's the issue of confirmation by the U.S. Senate of the president's nominations for federal judgeships. Democratic senators have deemed it necessary not merely to oppose, but to prevent up-or- down votes on the Senate floor on nominees known by all to possess majority support among all senators. The architects of this unprecedented plan of obstruction-by-filibuster: two northeastern liberals, Senators Kennedy of Massachusetts and Schumer of New York.

Folks in the aforementioned southern states were watching and, unamused, got the point. And, traveling across the Show Me State, one senses that Missourians get it too, big time.

U.S. Senate Republicans are absolutely right, this past week, to confront their partisan foes on the judge nominations. Obstructionism this extreme must be called out and opposed, confronted and defeated. It is past time to have it out with these people.

Another year of this, and the great, center-right majority of Missourians won't be able to contain themselves, itching as we will be to go vote, and to place Missouri squarely within the growing national consensus, repudiating a collection of interest groups that is "A National Party No More."

Peter Kinder is the assistant to the chairman of Rust Communications and president pro tem of the Missouri Senate.

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