WASHINGTON, Nov. 8 (UPI) -- Were the November 2001 elections indicative of any national trends -- or are all politics local, in the phrase coined by legendary House Speaker Tip O'Neill? United Press International National Political Analysts Peter Roff, a conservative; and Jim Chapin, a liberal; face off on opposite sides of this timely question.
Roff: Trends, but not where you would expect.
Tuesday's elections were devoid of any obvious national trends.
In spite of the best efforts by Democrats to argue the contrary, there is no evidence that the tax issue is dead or that President Bush's support is soft, all because his party lost control of two governorships and one legislative chamber. For most every thematic argument that has been put out, there is an equally obvious counter-argument that says just the opposite.
For example, Democrats are suggesting that the rejection of Republicans Mark Earley (Virginia) and Bret Schundler (New Jersey), who both campaigned on tax cuts, means the issue has lost its political salience.
However, Washington state voters passed activist Tim Eyman's I-747 initiative to limit increases in property tax collections to 1 percent per year. It passed by 60-40 and carried every county in the state but one.
Virginia voters cast 931,959 ballots out of a total of almost 1.6 million for GOP candidates for the state house, increasing their majority by 12 seats. The House of Delegates stood firmly with outgoing GOP Gov. Jim Gilmore this year against efforts to delay or stop the car tax repeal that was the 1997 campaign's defining issue.
If the tax issue were fading, it is unlikely the voters would reward the GOP with more seats.
Winning Democrats Mark Warner (Virginia) and Jim McGreevey (New Jersey) both ran to the right of the national Democrat standard on the tax issue. Warner committed to finish the abolition of the car tax, and McGreevey promised the voters he wouldn't raise taxes in New Jersey.
The election was not, as Democrat National Chairman Terry McAuliffe alleged, "a referendum on the Republican party and its stale ideas."
Gilmore, the Virginia governor but speaking in his role as GOP national chairman, fired back Wednesday, "If Terry really believes we are running on stale old ideas, then why did they take (our ideas) over?"
There are several less obvious themes of greater impact that will continue to play out in future races. One is that the politics of personal destruction is back.
McAuliffe spent the final days of the campaign twisting the partisan knife.
He accused Bush of running away from the GOP nominees because Bush did not travel to Virginia or New Jersey to campaign for them.
There is another explanation. GOP pollster David Winston observes: "In this environment, (Bush) couldn't be a partisan. As much as he might have wished to campaign in Virginia and New Jersey, he simply couldn't. He has to be president of everyone, Democrats and Republicans alike."
Bush, caught between a rock and a hard place, faced criticism whether he chose to be a campaigner or be a president. He made the right choice for the country, but such nuances are lost on those like McAuliffe.
Another theme, one far more significant, is the increasing animosity between blacks and Hispanics in the inner cities, especially when it comes to dividing up the political spoils.
This division earlier this year put James Hahn in as mayor of Los Angeles; did much on Tuesday to elect Michael Bloomberg in New York; and will probably push Democrat Lee Brown out in Houston in favor of Hispanic City Councilman Orlando Sanchez, who finished just .2 percent behind Brown in Election Day balloting.
This trend should make Democrats very nervous because if the GOP can figure out a way to use it to their political advantage, the end of the inner city welfare state and its political machine may be at hand.
Chapin: Spinning doesn't change the results
Well, let's see what happened. Before this year's elections, the Republicans controlled the entire government of both New Jersey and Virginia, including both houses of the legislature and both governors.
Afterward, they control the Virginal legislature and have a tie in the upper house of New Jersey.
So in the two states that voted this year, the Republicans went from 6-0 in control of the key centers of power to 2.5 to 3.5. They did gain legislative seats in Virginia, but that was a result, not of a popular surge, but of the ancient process of gerrymandering.
Before this year, Republicans had the mayors of Syracuse, Los Angeles, Miami, and Dayton. Now all those cities have Democratic mayors.
Even the perpetual Republican suburban bastion of Nassau County, N.Y., is now for the first time in the century totally Democrat-controlled.
That's because the Republican machine there managed to bankrupt the county, not in the troubled economy of 2001, but in the midst of a decade of unparalleled prosperity. And that's with some of the highest taxes in the nation -- so much for the party of low taxes!
The Republican candidates who lost in Virginia and New Jersey came straight out of the hard-right playbook: pro-gun, anti-abortion, anti-tax. Maybe no surprise that it didn't work in New Jersey, but it didn't work in Virginia, either.
The same could not be said of their only big victor this week: New York City elected billionaire Michael Bloomberg, a man who changed his registration just in time to run; announced to a startled Gov. George Pataki, who was endorsing him in a news conference, that he was a liberal; and in the first two days after his victory ran to consult with -- Bronx Borough President Freddy Ferrer and the Rev. Al Sharpton, two men who Rudolph Giuliani, his sainted predecessor, had refused to meet with, and two men who were about as necessary to his victory as Giuliani was. And, oh, there was a little matter of $60 million -- Bloomberg won at the minimal cost of $83 per voter.
I am willing to stipulate that, had the Republican Party run liberal, barely ex-Democratic billionaires for every office at stake this year, they would have won the great majority of them. But they didn't, and they didn't win many of them.
It's an old rule of politics: win, and you say it's significant. Lose, and say it's not. When the Republicans won the elections in these same states and cities eight years ago in 1993, it did indeed presage a great Republican year in 1994. Now that they've lost almost everything they won then, they are busy explaining its lack of significance. They may be right, but it's sure more fun when your opponents are explaining away losses than when they are gloating over wins. This year, it's the Republicans who are explaining and the Democrats who are gloating.