In the wake of President Bush's election victory, Democrats are preparing for what is likely to be a newly-energized Republican agenda in the 109th Congress convening in January. The prospect of at least two more years in the minority until the next congressional elections has Democrats again evaluating weaknesses that contributed to their latest electoral disappointments.
Despite a large turnout, and hopes newly-registered young voters would help Senator Kerry and Democratic candidates, Democrats were not able to prevent President Bush and Republicans from drawing enough strength from that party's conservative and religious political base to hold on to the White House, and increase the Republican advantage in Congress.
As they were forced to do after the 2002 congressional elections in which they lost control of the Senate and suffered other significant defeats, Democrats face another period of soul searching, even as they brace themselves for an invigorated Republican agenda on Capitol Hill.
Some of the first to address this were members of the Congressional Black Caucus which represents African American lawmakers.
Congressman Albert Wynn agrees Democrats need to take a look at where they stand with the electorate [voters], but cautions against any quick conclusions about how the party should change its approach. "Democrats are going to be very careful not to make any kind of snap judgments or knee-jerk reactions, to say oh we have to go to the [political] center, or it's about moral issues," he aid. "I think we have to evaluate, step back and do a critical evaluation. We have to make a distinction between casting blame and critical evaluation. We have to look at every component from our consultants, to our message, to our methodologies, to our legislation and evaluate how all that contributed to some of the things that didn't work out well."
Elijah Cummings, who leads the Congressional Black Caucus, says re-evaluation may require an examination, district by district across the country, of how Democrats are delivering their messages. But he is optimistic. "We all worked hard to try to make sure that we increased our numbers [in Congress]. It didn't happen the way we wanted it to, but believe me we have been a party that has learned from our mistakes and I think we will sit down, evaluate and go forward," he said.
Not unexpectedly, Republicans don't think Democrats will be able to fix their problems anytime soon. Congressman Tom Reynolds asserts that heavy voter turnout may just as well have indicated new voters were supporting George Bush as John Kerry. He believes Democrats are out of step with Americans.
"What is clear to me is that the Democrats have gone so far to the [political] left, they have no ability to kind of come with America as they see it, and the Republicans have seized a tremendous opportunity both in the election and I think the connection of what our message is with voters," he said.
Democrats say President Bush will need their cooperation if he wants to accomplish domestic objectives over the next four years.
In his speech Wednesday acknowledging his election victory, traditionally a time to call for reconciliation, Mr. Bush appeared to be reaching out not just to Kerry supporters, but to Democrats on Capitol Hill. "So today I want to speak to every person who voted for my opponent," he said. "To make this nation stronger and better, I will need your support and I will work to earn it."
As prepared as Mr. Bush may be to work with Democrats on issues ranging from Iraq and the war on terrorism to the economy, his election victory follows four years of steadily deteriorating bipartisan cooperation in Congress.
Democrats, meanwhile, are now in the position of having to choose a minority leader in the Senate, and more importantly are left searching for someone who they believe could make a successful run for the White House in 2008.