The two major U.S. political parties appear headed in different directions in the wake of last week's congressional midterm elections. Democrats are preparing to take the reins of power in Congress in January while Republicans are trying to figure out what went wrong.
Voter exit surveys and political experts say Democrats took power in large part because the public became disenchanted with the war in Iraq and disapproved of President Bush's job performance.
This is independent political analyst Charles Cook.
"Midterm elections are about punishing,” said Mr. Cook. “They are driven by anger. Anger and/or fear. And if Democrats see this as a mandate, I think they are crazy. If they see this as an opportunity, then I think they are smart because nobody voted for Democrats, they voted against Republicans."
Voter exit polls indicate Iraq and congressional scandals played a big role in Democratic gains among independent and moderate voters who had been more supportive of President Bush and the Republicans in the past two elections.
Chuck Todd is the editor of the Hotline political newsletter. He spoke at an election roundtable sponsored by the American Association of Retired Persons in Washington.
"This is the election that is the revenge of the independents,” said Mr. Todd. “And it goes to, I think, what Democrats need to be careful of, which is independents showed up and fired the Republicans. You know, that is all that happened. They did not hire the Democrats, they fired the Republicans."
As Democrats look forward to taking over both the Senate and House of Representatives for the first time since 1994, Republicans are reflecting on how they can do better next time.
Former Republican Congressman Dick Armey says the party will have to reach out to conservative voters who became disillusioned with the spending habits of the Republican-led Congress.
"These guys got off track sometime ago,” he said. “They have a mounting constituency of disappointed Republican supporters across the country, disappointed for a variety of reasons."
President Bush has appointed Senator Mel Martinez of Florida to become the new head of the Republican Party with the hope of winning back congressional seats and keeping the presidency in 2008.
"One of the things I made clear as I discussed this job role with the president is that I was not going to be a [political] attack dog and I do not intend to and I was not asked to be one,” said Senator Martinez. “I think that a tone of civility [is required] as we discuss our differences and as we challenge each other with big ideas about what the future of this nation ought to be."
Some Republican political strategists remain upbeat about their party's future prospects despite what even President Bush described as a thumping at the hands of Democrats on November 7.
Republican pollster Ed Goeas says so many House and Senate races were decided by close margins that a shift of several thousand votes meant the difference between keeping control of Congress and losing it to the Democrats.
"And so you end up with basically [a deficit of] 50,000 votes, not that it does not mean we still have lost control [of Congress], but 50,000 votes spread the right places nationwide would have meant the difference between losing control and keeping control."
As for the Democrats, they are eager to take power when the new Congress is installed in January.
California Democratic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi is slated to become the first woman Speaker of the House.
"We have made history, now we have to make progress and I look forward to working with the president to do just that," she said.
One of the keys to the success of Democrats in this year's election was nominating moderate House and Senate candidates in more conservative areas of the country.
Richard Wollfe is White House correspondent for Newsweek magazine. He appeared on VOA's Issues in the News program.
"This is not a revolutionary agenda that the Democrats are trying to enact here,” he said. “They wanted power, above all things, and they are prepared to take a pretty broad view of who should be in the party and who should be a candidate for them to get to power."
Democrats are encouraged about building on their success this year and broadening their appeal for the 2008 presidential election.
Mike McCurry is a former press secretary for President Bill Clinton.
"It primarily has to do with the strengthening of our base in the northeast and the industrial Midwest, it has a lot to do with the utter collapse of the Republican Party in Ohio, which has very significant implications for 2008,” he said. “And it has a lot to do with these Democratic governors in places like New Mexico, Arizona, Oregon and Colorado, places where we are going to be able to compete and reshape the electoral map."
A new public opinion poll found that 61 percent of those surveyed want Democrats to have more influence than President Bush on the direction of the country.
The CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll also found that Democrats had a favorability rating of 57 percent, their highest rating since early in 2004.
On the other hand, President Bush's job approval rating was at 33 percent, and only 35 percent of those asked had a favorable view of the Republican Party.