President Bush has unveiled an ambitious agenda as he prepares to take the oath of office for a second term on January 20. Meanwhile, opposition Democrats are trying to find their voice in the wake of the president's re-election victory in November and their reduced numbers in Congress.
Mr. Bush's margin in the popular vote over Senator John Kerry was fairly narrow, only 51 to 48 percent. But the president has wasted little time in putting official Washington on notice that he intends to use his mandate to push his agenda topped by reforms of the tax system and shoring up the Social Security pension program early in his second term.
"I earned capital in the campaign, political capital," the president said. "And now I intend to spend it. It is my style."
In addition to winning the White House again, Republicans also boosted their margins in the Senate and House of Representatives, making it harder for Democrats to block some of their initiatives.
Catholic University political expert John White says Republicans have not had this large a working majority since the 1920s.
"Both in 2002 and 2004 the Republicans gained seats in the Congress and I believe that they are going to use those majorities, and, as the president says, spend what political capital they have," he said.
Some analysts already caution that the president should spend his capital wisely.
Stuart Rothenberg publishes an independent political newsletter in Washington and carefully monitors presidential and congressional election results.
"I think what happened was the Republicans did a very good job of mobilizing their base [core supporters], of making the election about moral issues and terrorism rather than simply Iraq specifically and jobs. And they won it at the margins. I do not see this as a sea change in American politics or American government."
President Bush says he will reach out to those Democrats who share his goals. Democratic leaders are signaling that they will oppose him on issues where they believe a fight is necessary.
"But we know what the soul of the Democratic Party is and it is about prosperity, community, opportunity and fairness," said California Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic Leader. "It is about accountability and protecting our country."
Experts say that one of the Democrats' problems in the near future is finding a leader who can articulate not only what the party is against but also what it stands for.
"And yet at the end of the day, you come home and you do not have that prize of the presidency," said John Fortier, who writes about U.S. politics at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. "And in our American political system, a presidential system, not a parliamentary system, that means there is no leader for the Democrats for the next three years until they pick another presidential nominee."
Catholic University expert John White says Democrats need to do two things in the coming months as they begin the process of re-energizing the party faithful.
"One is that they have to develop a message and ideas," he said. "They really have to go back to the drawing board. Second, they are an opposition party and therefore they are going to have to decide on what issues they are going fight the president and the Republicans and on what issues might they find agreement."
Most analysts believe terrorism played a decisive role in the 2004 election. But a large number of voters also cited concern about moral values in surveys of people leaving the voting booths.
American University presidential historian Allan Lichtman says the Democrats need to find a way to boost their appeal to more conservative parts of the country, especially the South, West, and Midwest.
"They have to take the liberalism of Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson and redefine it for the 21st century and make it pre-eminently moral," he said. "Democrats cannot run away from moral issues, they have to embrace moral issues."
President Bush's vow that he will spend the political capital he won in the election is music to the ears of fellow Republicans eager to use their majorities in Congress to advance a conservative agenda.
But historians note that second term presidents often run into unexpected political difficulties. In fact, the last three presidents to win re-election, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, and Richard Nixon, were plagued by scandals in their second terms.