State Democrats debrief midterm elections

By David M. Smith

“In a cloud of blue, basking in blue,” was how Barbara Flynn Currie, the Democratic Majority Leader in the Illinois House of Representatives, described her feelings after the Democrats’ midterm sweep of Congress last week.

Currie spoke in a discussion last Thursday evening, “Debriefing the Midterms,” hosted by the UC Democrats. Kevin Conlon, an Illinois Democratic consultant who worked on Howard Dean’s presidential campaign, also participated.

“There’s no question that the election was a referendum on the president and the war in Iraq,” Currie said, adding that questions of corruption against many of the Republican candidates also helped the Democrats. “Voters don’t like people who are playing footsie with a K-Street lobbyist named Abramoff.”

Conlon argued that Karl Rove’s use of wedge issues, which paid off for the Republicans in 2004 with the spate of referendums on gay marriage, may have backfired in this election. According to Conlon, Rove’s main wedge issue was “immigrant-bashing,” which he said actually cost the election for certain incumbents—like Arizona Congressman J.D. Hayworth, an outspoken conservative on immigration.

Conlon said other losers in this election included the Illinois Democratic Party, which only controls 22 seats out of 59 in the state senate, while the biggest winners included Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean’s 50-State strategy, college-age voters, and “the world when Donald Rumsfeld resigned.”

Currie said the Democrats would be wise to pursue a pragmatic program, resisting calls from some within the party to begin impeachment proceedings against President Bush.

Incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi also faces the challenge of uniting the divided elements of her party, Currie said, given that many of the freshman Democrats elected to the 110th Congress trend conservative on a range of issues.