View Full Version : Their Adaptations Could Hold Key For Democrats

01-23-2005, 11:35 AM
Their adaptations could hold key for Democrats [Great advice... will they take it? NAH!!]
ASSOCIATED PRESS | Jan. 23, 2005 | By Ron Fournier

TOPEKA, Kan. - The road out of the political wilderness, if there is one for Democrats, could wind through Kansas and 11 other Republican-leaning states that are run by Democratic governors.

These are places where bipartisanship and moderation reign, liberal orthodoxies perish, GOP ideas flourish and the politically charged buzzword "values" means more than gays, guns and God. These "red-state" Democratic governors are anything but blue. Perhaps it's the virtue of necessity. "I always start with the premise that if I get 100 percent of Democrats to vote for me, I still lose big time," said Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat trying to squeeze her third-year agenda through a legislature dominated 2-1 by Republicans. "You never get the luxury of saying, 'I'll just mobilize my political base,'" she said. "You always look for ways to connect with people other than through party identification."

Sebelius and 11 other Democratic governors have found ways to appeal to voters in states won by Bush. Some practice down-home populism. Others craft no-nonsense CEO images.They push moderate Democratic policies or borrow GOP ideas and, above all, reject the partisanship of Washington. They've cracked the code. Knowing how to beat Republicans on their own turf, Democratic governors consider themselves the future of a party adrift.

They say a key to their success is convincing voters, through their policies and personalities, that they are "one of them." Democrats in middle America must be viewed as part of a state's cultural fabric, clearly distinguishable from the national party in Washington. "There are a few Democrats -- you know who they are, Teddy Kennedy and Hillary Clinton -- who Republicans like to tie around our necks, and they are universally disliked in places like Oklahoma," Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry said. "They have a reputation of being ultraliberal, and it filters down on us."

One way Democratic governors avoid the liberal-by-association label is by breaking party conventions. Tennessee's Phil Bredesen eliminated a program in Al Gore's home state that was supposed to be the first step toward universal health care. Bill Richardson of New Mexico and Janet Napolitano of Arizona want to cut taxes. After Napolitano proposed tax cuts for businesses last week, Republican state Senate President Ken Bennett joked, "We're checking to see if she has re-registered as a Republican yet."

It's not a laughing matter in Washington, where some Democrats say it's easy to throw potshots from state capitals. "It's certainly true that we have a talented group of democratic governors who have plenty to teach us here in Washington," said Democratic consultant Jim Jordan, former campaign manager for Bush rival Sen. John Kerry. "But it's also true that they have the luxury of running their campaigns entirely on domestic issues, avoiding altogether the issues of war and peace and national security that are so difficult for Democrats on the federal level." The source of Oklahoman Henry's concern, Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, argued in a speech last week that Democrats can't succeed "under pale colors and timid voices." Former presidential candidate Howard Dean called talk of values "a codeword for appeasement of the right-wing fringe."

Not so, say the governors. They argue that there are smarter ways to handle the values debate than "appeasing the left-wing fringe," a phrase used by one governor who asked not to be identified. Their strategy:

Adopt the GOP position on social issues whenever possible.
Expand the term "values" to include education, health care and other traditionally Democratic issues, along with a candidate's own biography and character traits.

"To me, values means responsibility, opportunity and security," said Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack. "And I can tie every policy, every program, that we do into one of those values."