Democrats Buoyed by Election Results Democrats win the big prizes in off-year elections, snagging governorships in New Jersey and Virginia. Democrats are especially celebrating Tim Kaine's victory in Virginia -- a state that voted for President Bush in 2000 and 2004.
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Democrats Buoyed by Election Results

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Democrats Buoyed by Election Results

Democrats Buoyed by Election Results

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Leaders of both major political parties were busy today interpreting the results of yesterday's elections and looking for clues for the future. The big prizes were governorships won by Democrats: Jon Corzine in New Jersey and Tim Kaine in Virginia. Republicans point out that both states already had Democratic governors, but Democrats are downright giddy over the outcome in Virginia, where President Bush won in 2000 and 2004. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR reporting:

Tim Kaine spent the day, after his triumph at the polls, like many newly elected officials planning a statewide victory tour and working on his transition. In Kaine's case, it should be easy. He served as lieutenant governor to Democrat Mark Warner for the last four years; the two campaigned side by side. And Kaine promised he would carry on the popular Warner's centrist policies. That also made it easy today for Republicans to paint Kaine's win as no more than an endorsement of the status quo. Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman said as much in a conference call to reporters this afternoon.

(Soundbite of conference call)

Mr. KEN MEHLMAN (Chair, Republican National Committee): A lot of people just kind of said, `I'm happy with things. I don't want to change things.' And if you look at the kind of campaign that Tim Kaine ran, where he talked about the Warner-Kaine administration or he talked about basically things are going to stay the same, where he presented himself as a fiscal conservative, where he said he supported the Second Amendment, essentially the argument he made was, `If you're happy with how things are, I'm not going to change anything.'

NAYLOR: Mehlman said that was particularly true in some of the affluent Washington suburbs, where Kaine piled up large margins and where Mehlman says voters were comfortable. But Republicans could not so readily explain why Kaine did so well in some of the outer suburbs that have trended Republican and where President George Bush won big last year. Democrats saw in Kaine's victory a repudiation of the Bush administration and of Republican control of Washington. Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said the president's campaign stop for Republican Jerry Kilgore on election eve make clear the Virginia election mattered to the administration.

Dr. HOWARD DEAN (Chair, Democratic National Committee): I think it was real in Virginia. I think the president chose to make it a referendum. It was a very high-risk strategy, and I think it blew up in his face and in Jerry Kilgore's face. I mean, people don't like dishonesty, and they don't like corruption, and that's what you've seen from this administration.

NAYLOR: The White House was having none of that. Spokesman Scott McClellan said Kaine had won in Virginia by embracing Republican issues.

Mr. SCOTT McCLELLAN (White House Spokesperson): In Virginia, for instance, you had a candidate, Democratic candidate, for governor who ran on a conservative platform, a platform that was very much out of line with the Democratic National Party.

NAYLOR: The win yesterday was indisputably good news for Mark Warner, whose popularity in red-state Virginia could enhance his appeal as a centrist Southern Democrat should he run for president in 2008. It also raises interesting questions about Democrats and faith. Kaine emphasized his Roman Catholic beliefs as the basis for his personal opposition to capital punishment and abortion. Robert Holsworth of Virginia Commonwealth University says Kaine is the most overtly religious Democrat to run in years.

Mr. ROBERT HOLSWORTH (Virginia Commonwealth University): He's a Democrat who wears his faith very easily, and this simply wasn't invented for the gubernatorial campaign. It served a very important political purpose in the campaign. It was the way that Kaine attempted to deflect the criticism that Kilgore raised about his death penalty stance.

NAYLOR: And Howard Dean agrees that if you want to win in the South, you've got to be comfortable talking about your faith. It's something Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry was not comfortable doing, and that may be the biggest lesson for Democrats in 2006. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

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