Inside the Capitol

Monday, November 10, 2008

11-12 Is the GOP Dead?

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Is the Republican Party dead? The question is being asked widely at the state and national levels. Some pundits are speculating that the GOP will go the way of the Whigs, who were replaced by the Republican party in 1856 as being outdated.
My answer is the same as it was last week. Republicans will come back. And if Democrats aren't careful it will be sooner rather than later. There was a similar euphoria 16 years ago after Bill Clinton won the White House.
The Democratic Leadership Conference, composed primarily of Southern governors and senators had forged a new Democratic Party based on centrist positions that would attract Democrats and Republicans alike.
Clinton had won his share of the Deep South and Border States plus four Rocky Mountain states. His message was compelling and he delivered it masterfully.
But in the first two years of his administration, the Clintons overstepped their bounds so far that Newt Gingrich was able to put together a new platform for the GOP that swept Republican majorities into both houses of Congress and kept them there for 12 years.
Now that the tide has turned the other direction, some Republicans are suggesting that Gingrich be asked to lead another countercharge. At 65, Gingrich still has the energy and enthusiasm to take on the task but he may not be the person for the job this time.
Republicans have long been the party of old white men and that's not selling well outside the Deep South, Appalachia, the Great Plains and some of the Rockies. It's not enough for a winning coalition.
Although some of the states are growing, the influx from the Northeast and the Rust Belt don't usually vote the same way. And these states don't have the large population centers and big electoral votes of the Blue States.
The soccer moms in the suburbs are changing their minds and beginning to vote more Democrat. The young never were with the Grand Old Party but most of them didn't vote so it didn't matter. But this time they voted. So did Hispanics -- the fastest-growing minority.
One can argue rural over big city values but the population is headed the other direction. The GOP must broaden its tent in order to continue winning elections. The focus this time was on appealing to its base, an idealistic group, unwilling to accept anyone but true believers.
Use of the term "the base" may not be wise either. The term has long been used by political scientists but a group of uncompromising Muslims has chosen the same name. My historical mentor, Dave Clary of Roswell, points out that al-Qaida translates into English as "the base."
Republicans don't have many new faces in the party who can equal the appeal of an Obama. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is perhaps the brightest of the stars. Others include Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
But Republicans like to nominate familiar names for president. Since 1952, every winning Republican ticket has included Richard Nixon or a Bush. That's nine presidential terms for a total of 36 years. And there are more Bushes out there in the shrubs.
Republicans don't have much time to turn the tide. Redistricting of state legislatures and Congress takes place in 2011. State legislatures will do the redistricting for both.
The New Mexico senators we elected on Nov. 4 will participate in that redistricting. State House members will stand for election in 2010. If it remains solidly Democratic and another Democratic governor is elected, Democrats will be in position to strengthen election chances for the next decade.
New Mexico Republicans faded big time in 1930, after the stock market crash. No Republican governor was elected again until 1950 and the GOP didn't make a comeback in the Legislature until the late 1960s.
But they came back.
WED, 11-12-08

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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