Thursday, May 15, 2008


If there is such a thing as a useful election defeat, then Tuesday's Republican loss in a special House election in Mississippi would qualify. Maybe this thumping in a heretofore safe GOP seat will finally scare the Members straight, or at least less crooked.

Democrats won with 54% of the vote in a district that a Republican won with 66% in 2006 and that President Bush carried in 2004 by 25 points. It was the GOP's third special election loss this year, and it has Democrats predicting that November will be another rout of 2006 proportions. Oklahoma's Tom Cole, who runs the National Republican Congressional Committee, captured the GOP reaction when he declared that "There is no district that is safe for Republican candidates."

This is the lesson Republicans should have learned in 2006, but the Members preferred to blame their failure on President Bush and Iraq. House Republicans pooh-poohed their own earmarking scandals, spending excesses and overall wallowing in the Beltway status quo. Rather than rethink their habits, they re-elected the same party leaders and even kept Jerry Lewis as their chief Appropriator. Congressman John Shadegg of Arizona is right when he says that "Since the 2006 elections, Republicans have done absolutely nothing to redefine themselves. We can't even get behind an earmark moratorium bill."

In the Mississippi race, the national GOP tried to link Democratic candidate Travis Childers to Barack Obama and Reverend Jeremiah Wright. One TV ad declared: "Travis Childers: He took Obama's endorsement over our conservative values." But Mr. Childers was well known as a cultural conservative who favors gun rights and opposes abortion. In a year when Americans are mad as hell, such a negative attack strategy merely reminds voters that Republicans have run out of ideas.

Democrats have settled on a formula of running as cultural conservatives in GOP districts, and as economic populists on "fiscal discipline," trade protection, corporate bashing, and "middle-class tax cuts" paid for by taxes on the rich. If Republicans can't trump that message with an agenda of low taxes, health-care affordability and portability, jobs and stable prices, they will be routed again in November.

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