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    US Political Parties Appear Headed In Different Directions

    The two major U.S. political parties appear to be moving in opposite directions in the wake of President Bush's re-election last November.

    For Republicans, it is the best of times. They look forward to a second four-year term for President Bush and increased majorities in both the Senate and House of Representatives.

    The president's top political adviser, Karl Rove, recently told a conservative group in Washington that conservatism has now become the "dominant political creed" in the United States.

    "We are seizing the mantle of idealism," said Karl Rove. "As you know, the president has made a powerful case in the inaugural speech, and before, for spreading human liberty and defending human dignity. This was once largely the preserve of liberalism. But a fellow named Ronald Reagan changed all that. President Bush has built on these beliefs, and is committed to something no past president has ever attempted, spreading liberty to the broader Middle East."

    Mr. Rove noted that President Bush carried 97 of the 100 fastest growing counties in the country in the November election. He says Republicans are poised to expand their reach over the next few years, provided they stay focused.

    "We need to learn from our successes and from the failures of the other side [Democrats] and ourselves," he said. "As the governing party in America, Republicans cannot grow tired or timid. We have been given the opportunity to govern, and now we have to show that we deserve the respect and trust of our fellow citizens by acting in office as we said we would do on the campaign trail."

    President Bush won re-election in part because of a large turnout among conservative Christian voters. Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson says evangelical Christians intend to keep pressure on the administration to oppose abortion and homosexual marriage.

    "What people of faith want above all else is an acknowledgment by government, by media, by educators and, especially, the courts that the greatness of our nation depends on its spiritual strength," said Pat Robertson.

    The situation facing opposition Democrats appears more pessimistic. They have narrowly lost the last two presidential elections, and continue to lose support in the Congress.

    The party recently chose former Vermont governor and presidential contender Howard Dean as its national chairman. He immediately pledged to try and expand the party's reach in the south and west, two areas of the country where Republicans have become dominant in recent years.

    "We will rebuild this party, because we are the party of reform and change," claimed Howard Dean. "Republicans can stop progress, but only Democrats can start it again."

    But Howard Dean remains a controversial figure for many moderate Democrats. They fear he may be too polarizing a choice to lead a party looking to build support among centrist voters over the next few years.

    Many Democrats continue to look to former President Clinton to provide leadership and direction, at a time when the party is debating its future.

    For his part, Mr. Clinton is urging Democrats to unify and avoid the kind of political squabbles between liberals and moderates that have divided the party in the past.

    "We have got to stop eating on [criticizing] each other, and redirect our fire toward the people we disagree with," said Bill Clinton. "We need to be together, and work together, and build together."

    For now, opposition Democrats will look to their congressional leadership to set policy direction for the party, including Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.

    But, eventually, a new crop of Democratic leaders is likely to emerge in advance of the 2008 presidential election.

    John White is a professor of political science at Catholic University in Washington. "The Democrats are in trouble," he stated. "There is just no other way to say it. Certainly, former President Clinton remains important and so does his wife [Senator Hillary Clinton of New York]. But the Democrats are also going to have to develop new leaders."

    In the meantime, both parties are already preparing for the next major national test, the 2006 mid-term congressional elections, in which all 435 House seats and one-third of the 100 Senate seats will be up for grabs.

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