Experts dissect Democratic election sweep

Almost two hours into a wide-ranging panel discussion about how the Democrats regained control of Congress, a Republic strategist offered a blunt answer Thursday evening at the Dole Institute of Politics.

“This was an election (overall) about Iraq and incompetence, and the Republicans got fired,” said Joe Gaylord, a former adviser for Newt Gingrich.

Gaylord’s view on why particularly independent voters became restless last month was echoed during the 2006 Post-Election Conference’s national panel discussion.

Ten journalists and a bipartisan slate of pollsters and political strategists discussed the issues surrounding the Democratic congressional victories during day one of the two-day event.

A regional panel discussed Kansas and Missouri election results earlier Thursday. Bill Lacy, director of the Dole Institute, said organizers would like to offer similar events every two years.

GOP ‘hubris’

Democratic strategists defined the Bush administration’s attitude as being “hubris” after the 2004 election.

Democratic pollster Alan Secrest said mistakes in 2005, including the situation in Iraq and the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, helped create a public perception of “incompetence and indifference.”

The Washington insiders also criticized Bush’s unsuccessful attempt at Social Security reform.

“He embraced a concept, but he was never willing to embrace a real plan,” said Dan Balz, national political correspondent for the Washington Post.

The administration focused on its domestic agenda after the 2004 success, but then security in Iraq worsened, panelists said.

“It didn’t work in large part because the situation in Iraq was not – in retrospect – what they thought it was in 2005,” said Jerry Seib, Washington bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal.

Fiscal conservatives also became frustrated with Congress, particularly on spending, said Scott Reed, a GOP strategist and former campaign manager for Bob Dole’s presidential run in 1996. And panelists said moderate Republicans feared that the Christian right in the party gained too much power.

Despite a rough several months, poll numbers improved for Republicans after Labor Day until news about Iraq worsened and the Mark Foley page scandal became public, which leaders did not react well to, panelists said.

“The House Republican leadership did everything wrong, and it just prolonged it,” said Jill Zuckman, chief congressional correspondent for the Chicago Tribune.

Democratic campaign leaders also executed an improved campaign strategy to complement Republican woes, said Ray Strother, a national Democratic strategist.

What’s ahead?

The panelists discussed little about possible 2008 presidential candidates Thursday.

During a question-and-answer session, Zuckman said that during this congressional session, committee leadership changes might open the door for immigration reform based on polling data that showed the issue less partisan.

“Immigration is not quite as clear-cut,” said Joe Lenski, co-founder of Edison Media Research, who conducts exit polls for major television networks.

Others speculated that the next two years could bring fierce partisan bickering to establish control for the 2008 presidential primaries and general election.

GOP strategist Reed said Republicans may benefit from not having congressional control the next two years, but Balz, correspondent for the Washington Post, said the GOP’s national party is badly fractured.

Dozens of audience members included Kansas University educators and students and a few members of the public who won tickets by lottery. The national panel will continue its discussion at 8 a.m. today.

– 6News reporter Laura Berger contributed information.