Howard Dean and Bill Richardson
WASHINGTON — As Republicans work out a family feud over what went wrong, Democrats are riding a wave of good feeling over all that went right.
"This was a seismic shift," Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), told reporters at a Monitor breakfast Thursday. "[It's] a moving away from right-wing extremism and back to a centrist agenda."
Set aside, for now, is the feud between Mr. Dean and the House and Senate Democratic campaign committees over whether precious campaign funds should be spent in the short term, to win the midterm elections, or for the longer term, Dean's plan to grow the party in all 50 states. After a historic win taking back the House and maybe the Senate, both can be right.
"We were competitive in every region," says New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, also at the Monitor Breakfast. "The 50-state strategy has worked to revive the Democratic Party."
The key to this election wasn't just turning out the base, both men stressed: It was reaching outside the party.
"Look, the independents won this election for us," says Dean.
By having DNC staff on the ground in all 50 states at least a year before the Nov. 7 vote, Democrats were positioned to take advantage of a souring public mood for the GOP. "We put folks into Indiana [where Democrats picked up three House seats] a year and half before we knew the candidates," Dean says.
Democrats also made gains deep within the traditional GOP base, picking up about 1 in 3 white, evangelical voters. "We did Christian broadcast and rural radio in seven states with key races," including hiring the weather man to do the ads "because he was a local person who could be trusted," Dean says.
In addition to gaining at least 28 House seats and likely control of the Senate, Democrats picked up six states in governors' races. The message from voters in this election is: "End gridlock, be bipartisan, and fix problems," says Richardson.