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Will Republicans Party Like It's 1994? Or Democrats Like It's 1964?

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Now that the primary season has come to its shocking finale and the general election has begun, political observers may be wondering what year this is.

For Republicans, whose voting legions have surpassed Democrats in numbers and enthusiasm this year, 2010 is shaping up as a repeat of 1994. That was the year of the so-called Republican Revolution, when the party's Contract With America helped end 40 years of Democratic control of Congress.

For Democrats, who dismiss such analogies, the year to keep an eye on is 1982. That's when another new president, Ronald Reagan, entered his first midterm elections amid double-digit unemployment and abysmal approval ratings not unlike those facing President Obama. Republicans counted themselves lucky to "only" lose 26 House seats while managing to add one seat to their Senate majority.

But as Tea Party supporters wave their signature flag from the 18th century, there may be a more instructive year to consider.

"In 1964, a deeply principled, but extreme, candidate -- Barry Goldwater -- was chosen by the right wing of the Republican Party. By choosing principle over electoral expedience, the party lost badly, but in losing showed that Republicans cared deeply about certain core beliefs and would not compromise," said Duke University political scientist Michael Munger.

This November's election could also, he said, turn into 1994 when, "a set of principles were laid out in the Contract With America and the Republicans used this as a vehicle to ride to a majority in the House."

Munger notes that while 1964 was a presidential race and 1994 a midterm like 2010, "the point is that the Tea Party could either cause the Republicans to win big, if people unhappy with the Democrats want a return to conservative principles, or to lose big, if they are perceived as too extreme."

It is too early to tell if Republican primary gains equal a Pyrrhic victory. Voters will learn in November if Christine O'Donnell, Rand Paul, Sharron Angle and the other tempest-tossing Tea Party favorites have the right stuff to be elected in a general election. But even before the last primary votes were counted, political prognosticators had revised the odds of a Republican takeover of one or both houses of Congress amid headlines blaring "GOP Nightmare."

"Significantly worse today than yesterday," declared analyst Stuart Rothenberg on MSNBC. It was an observation shared by many, especially Democrats.

"The primary season created disarray for Republicans, who chose extremists instead of mainstream candidates to run for U.S. Senate," said Democratic Senate Committee spokeswoman Deirdre Murphy. "The election map has demonstrably changed."

If Democrats were gleeful at the Tea Party toppling of Delaware moderate Mike Castle, the eighth establishment Republican candidate to go down in this year's throw-the-bums-out melee, at least one GOP leader warned his party against self-confidence.

"Any of you who think this is locked doesn't get it," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the leader of the 1994 revolt, told the House Republican Conference. "The truth is [Democrats] will have a net resource advantage."

Sen. Jim DeMint, the South Carolina Republican who has been a godfather to this year's rebels, was unrepentant about the prospect that his party may lose seats now that moderates like Castle have been sidelined.

"I don't want the majority back if we don't believe anything," he said on Fox News.

Many conservatives felt that way in 1964 when they backed Goldwater over moderate New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller for president. Castle was one of the last of the "Rockefeller Republicans," whose moderate base in the Northeast has all but withered and died.

In accepting his party's nomination, the Arizona senator famously declared that "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice" and "moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."

Goldwater promised to shrink government, expand freedom, repeal laws and make Social Security voluntary back when the Tea Party was still a chapter from colonial history.

He was crushed by President Lyndon Johnson in a landslide.

"Historical parallels are always chancy, but in a number of races bright-red Republicans with Tea Party backing could sacrifice victories for conservative principles. This could certainly hurt GOP chances for regaining control of Congress, especially in the Senate," said Robert Schmuhl, an American studies professor at the University of Notre Dame (and a Politics Daily contributor). He said that after Goldwater, it took until 1980 and Ronald Reagan's election "before the more conservative wing of the Republican Party prevailed and won nationally. How long might another GOP civil war last?"

University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato sees fewer parallels to 1964 this year. He said Republicans have a good chance to win a House majority and more governorships and said it's "a great exaggeration to say a few races have changed the whole direction of 2010."

Instead, Sabato has another year in mind: 2012.

"Republicans do have a deep divide between the mainstream and the Tea Party," he said. "If the Republicans get the House, the leadership is going to have a bumpy ride holding the two sides together. And every White House candidate will have to appeal to the Tea base without going too far right for the mainstream GOP and the general electorate.

"If 1964 happens again, the number will read 2012, not 2010."
Filed Under: 2010 Elections, Campaigns

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hello

God BLESS America!

September 17 2010 at 8:57 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
georgemotroni

A quote from the late Barry Goldwater, "However, on religious issues there can be little or no compromise. There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God's name on one's behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I'm frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in 'A,' 'B,' 'C,' and 'D.' Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of 'conservatism.' " Great quote from a great man, I would love to know what he would have thought of Sarah Palin and her ilk.

September 17 2010 at 6:50 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
jolmy

It's not just that the Tea Party is throwing out establishment republicans. It's that they're nominating absurdly unqualified and barely coherent candidates in their place. O'Donnell is a laughingstock of ignorance. Rand Paul has a third grade Ayn Rand comic book understanding of reality. And Miller in Alaska is filled with so much rage at the government, he sounds like the Unabomber. God help us if any of these people actually become Senators. But on the flip side, they couldn't be worse than Joe Lieberman.

September 17 2010 at 6:40 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
thunderboltsf

This November's election could also, he said, turn into 1994 when, "a set of principles were laid out in the Contract With America and the Republicans used this as a vehicle to ride to a majority in the House." ******************* Seems to me that the author is confusing "principles" with lies. The Contract with America was designed to deceive us about the GOP's true intentions.

September 17 2010 at 6:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
defelicep

Our Government could bankrupt a hotdog cart in 30 days.

September 17 2010 at 5:52 PM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply
chasckeith

The republicans under, newt gingrich promised the moon, but what they did was the same things they campaigned to eliminate. The democrats, under barack obama, have done the same things. The federal government, is bloated, and seeking ever more to control all aspects of your life. What we do need is some fresh ideas, some new untried talent; help to turn from this reckless cource we are on. We need, and should demand, that the government resolve the reckless spending and brings the dept under control. No mater who the candidates are, that are running, if they have integrity you should vote for them. We have to turn this country around and bring it onto a solid foundation, and thats not going to happen if we continue to send the same old has beens back to straighten out their own mess. throw them all out and start fresh, thats our only hope to remain free.

September 17 2010 at 5:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jacquie

November elections........CHANGE you can BELIEVE IN!

September 17 2010 at 5:05 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
Sheila

Educate yourself before voting. Bush came in with a surplus and wanted to return the money to the taxpayer, and did so buy providing tax cuts till Jan 2011. The surplus is long gone. There is two choices: republican and democrat. The republicans want to extend the Bush tax cuts two more years and then EVERYONE'S TAXES GO BACK UP. THE DEMOCRATS WANT THE TAX CUTS TO BE PERMANENT FOR THE FIRST $250,000 WITH NO EXPIRATION DATE. Even the rich get their tax break for the first $250,000 under the democrats. We cannot afford to give $100,000 tax cut on average to the rich because that would cost us $700,000,000,000. ($700 billion.)

September 17 2010 at 5:00 PM Report abuse -6 rate up rate down Reply
garyly64

The GOP is reaping (teabaggers) what it sowed (pandering to the religious right)! And they deserve every excruciating comment and statement their "running mates" spew.

September 17 2010 at 4:55 PM Report abuse -7 rate up rate down Reply
gratefulrpa

look at the men that were in 1964 - look at who is now in office, and at the microphones - careers have been made on the backs of the taxpayers - the progressive movement has over run the system, the political parties only serve the political parties - bring back "trust" to trusted public servant, and you will have the people behind you - either you represent me, or you don't. The authority to govern is only by the consent of the governed. for God and County - God bless America

September 17 2010 at 4:46 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply

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