The talking heads for once were at a loss for words. As report after report poured in that Republicans were leading in key Senate races that had been predicted to be close, the electronic media seemed to put off for as long as it could the news that the GOP would take over leadership of the Senate. Even after midnight, America Online, part of the conglomerate that includes Time magazine and CNN, featured the headline "Democrats Look to Hold Onto Senate."
Finally, when their failure to credit the GOP victory became embarrassing, Democratic spokesmen and many media commentators began to explain that voters naturally were rallying behind the president because the United States was on the brink of war. Dick Morris, the former adviser to President Bill Clinton, who on the eve of the elections had predicted massive Democratic wins, wrote for NationaIReview.com on the morning after, "Still at war, shaken by 9/11, apprehensive about Iraq's and North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons, Americans turned to their president and gave him the thumping affirmation he did not get in the 2000 election."
Never mind that for weeks leading up to the election Morris and other Democratic and liberal seers were insisting that their favorite polls showed the most important concerns to voters were domestic issues related to the economy and that national-security issues had been taken off the table by the Democratic leadership's shrewd support of the war resolution that passed Congress. And never mind that even popular wartime presidents have seen their parties lose seats in midterm elections. For instance, the Democratic Party lost House and Senate seats under Franklin Roosevelt in November 1942, less than a year after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Some commentators went so far as to claim there were no big issues between the parties, only local concerns and personalities. Walter Shapiro of USA Today called this a "Seinfeld election ... about nothing." Combining the Seinfeld and the rally-round-the-president theories, veteran New York Times scribe R.W. "Johnny" Apple opined in a front-page "news analysis" on the morning after the elections that "14 months after the unspeakable horror of terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, the nation voted yesterday in a mood of disenchantment and curious disconnection from the political system."
But Republicans and conservatives who were in the trenches during the 2002 campaign tell INSIGHT that these theories are hogwash. They say the Republican victories were a vindication of both the president's foreign and domestic policies and of an old-fashioned "ground-war" effort to get Republican voters to the polls.
When he heard from INSIGHT about Apple's assertion that Campaign 2002 was "notably lifeless and cheerless, with pep rallies devoid of pep and stump speeches that stirred few voters," Missouri Farm Bureau President Charles Kruse laughed heartily. "I think that guy really ought to get a grip. Maybe he's spending all his time in New York, and that's the way it is there," says Kruse, whose group campaigned heavily on behalf of Republican former representative Jim Talent in his successful effort to oust incumbent Democratic Sen. Jean Carnahan. "If he had been in this state and traveled around it like I've done, he would have seen how excited people were. There was a high level of enthusiasm. In Missouri, there were clear differences on the issues between the two candidates for the U.S. Senate."
Missouri was one of the states where President George W. Bush campaigned heavily during the two weeks before the election. Despite the spin of the commentators, Bush did not dwell on either terrorism or war with Iraq. Rather, Kruse and other observers say, he brought a clear message that the Democratic Senate and its majority leader, Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), were obstructing tax cuts, blocking domestic oil exploration and resisting Republican policies designed to get the economy moving. …