Wed, Nov 29, 2006 - Page 8 News List

US midterm elections and Taiwan

By Li Thian-hok 李天福

In the midterm elections held on Nov. 7, the US Democratic party won a sweeping, greater-than-anticipated victory. The party made gains in state governments and gubernatorial races, most notably in Massachusetts and New York. In the House of Representatives, it won 231 seats versus 197 seats for the Republicans. In the Senate, each party now has 49 seats, but two independents -- senators Joseph Lieberman and Bernie Sanders -- will likely align with the Democrats, thus giving Democrats control of the Senate.

After the 2000 presidential election, depending on which party they voted for, states were depicted as red for Republican or blue for Democratic. That year, only states on the East and West coasts and a few in the upper Midwest were blue; the vast expanse of the rest of the country was red.

After the midterm elections, a new political map has been drawn according to the governors' parties, and the northeastern, midwestern and southern border states are now mostly blue. The Great Plains and Rocky Mountain states are a mixed palette and only the deep south is now solidly red.

Across the US, the Democrats won 57 percent of independent voters' votes, while the Republicans won 39 percent. In the east, the margin was 63 Democratic to 33 percent Republican.

The Democrats also made gains among the critical white working class voters known as Reagan Democrats. These professionals preferred Democrats by 58 percent to 41 percent for Republicans in congressional races.

Latinos backed Democrats by an overwhelming 72 to 27 percent for Republicans in the West. Younger voters voted Democratic by 63 percent to 33 percent for Republicans.

The Democrats won because centrist voters were turned off by the corruption in Washington as exemplified by scandal surrounding lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the revelation of former Republican representative Mark Foley's misconduct shortly before election day.

By far the most important reason, however, was voters' disillusionment with the war in Iraq. After viewing the daily carnage on TV, many voters came to the conclusion that the government lacked the capacity and strategy to extricate its troops with a modicum of dignity and without leaving chaos behind.

US President George W. Bush responded by empowering the Iraq Study Group headed by James Baker, who served as secretary of state under former president George H. W. Bush, to recommend a new strategy for Iraq.

It is possible that Bush the younger will follow the study group's advice and look for ways to extricate the US from its Iraq debacle before that country breaks out into full-scale civil war, but this is by no means certain.

In any event, US foreign policy is still primarily the domain of the executive branch and it would be suicidal for the Democrats to cut off funds for the war, so the Bush administration may continue to prosecute the war at its own pace.

Where the Democrats can make a difference is mainly in domestic affairs. Democrats will now chair all committees in congress and will be able to control the agenda and schedule in both the House and the Senate. They will be able to scrutinize the Bush administration's policies and actions more closely through congressional hearings.

Bush's strategist Karl Rove called the Republican loss a "transient, passing thing."

Whether the Democrats can turn this year's victory into a long-term majority will depend on whether they can work with the Republicans to advance the nation's welfare.

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