Senior Republican Party leaders are quite alarmed that the party lost a special election in a Mississippi congressional district that was once considered solidly Republican (the district went for George Bush in 2004 by a 25 point margin). While some Republicans have tried to rationalize away the defeat, National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Tom Cole issued a blunt statement that said, in part:
Tonight’s election highlights two significant challenges Republicans must overcome this November. First, Republicans must be prepared to campaign against Democrat challengers who are running as conservatives, even as they try to join a liberal Democrat majority. Though the Democrats’ task will be more difficult in a November election, the fact is they have pulled off two special election victories with this strategy, and it should be a concern to all Republicans.
The political environment is such that voters remain pessimistic about the direction of the country and the Republican Party in general. I encourage all Republican candidates, whether incumbents or challengers, to take stock of their campaigns and position themselves for challenging campaigns this fall by building the financial resources and grassroots networks that offer them the opportunity and ability to communicate, energize and turn out voters this election.
The message to incumbent Republicans seems to be: donâ€™t assume youâ€™re safe. Even though the Democratic Party leaders are still solidly liberal, the party has smartly recruited qualified centrist and even right-of-center candidates to run in Republican districts and take advantage of the national dissatisfaction with GOP leadership.
There is reason to think that, if the economy continues to slump, gas prices continue to rise and the Iraq conflict continues to remain unresolved, the Democrats could find themselves with the presidency and a powerful congressional majority come November. A Republican Party which once fought so hard for limited government may have, through its own greed and incompetence, created a situation that will usher in a Democratic majority large enough to dramatically expand federal government programs, handouts and socially liberal initiatives.
The Republicans have under six months to figure out how to stop that from happening.