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DGA Chief Says Dems “Carry Burden of Proof”

Just listened to a 3 p.m. post-election conference call hosted by Nathan Daschle, executive director of the Democratic Governors Association. (538 regulars will recall an interview Daschle conducted with the site late this summer.)

Here is a quick summary of his comments today, as best and as quickly as I could type them:

“As you can imagine, there are about a 1,000 things I’d rather be doing today than discussing last night’s results,” he opened. “One thing you learn in politics is that you have good nights and bad nights.”

He said that the DGA is trying to “learn what you can from results, but not dwell on them,” adding that they are “disappointed, but not discouraged.” He twice pointed out that New Jersey and Virginia are historically counter-trending states—that the two states have elected governors from the opposite party controlling the White House for the past 24 years, arguing that it “would have been an upset for us to win.” He said they were turning the focus immediately to the 37 governors races on the ballot 2010.

In what sounded like a prepared statement, Daschle went on to say it was “important to draw lessons but not over-analyze” the results, which he said did not support: (1) the conclusion that there’s a Republican resurgence, again noting the counter-trending of the two governors’ seats relative to the party controlling the White House; nor (2) the idea that President Obama “is politically wounded,” saying it was not a political referendum on the White House; nor (3) that “Democrats are in trouble for 2010,” citing polls in New Jersey showing that Jon Corzine won on the “economy” yesterday but lost because “other issues superseded the economy.”

There are three fair conclusions to draw, however, he said:

  1. It’s a reminder that “Democrats carry a burden of proof” to deliver real results, specifically in “creating and saving jobs, and restoring prosperity.” He added later, during the question-and-answer period that he believes it a tough time for incumbents, but that that “cuts both ways” for Democratic and Republican governors or gubernatorial candidates next year, especially given that 48 states are presently running budget deficits.
  2. Second, it’s a reminder that “federal issues are a matter that, as the majority party, we need to show that we are a party of actions, not rhetoric.” Later, during the question and answer, he expanded on this theme in response from a question from US News reporter Dan Gilgoff, saying that the DGA has been advising their candidates that “if the Republican opponent is trying to box you in on federal issues it is because they have no policy or platform of their own on state issues.”
  3. Finally, it showed that the “Republican Party is still in disarray and not ready to take over. They are very much still a house divided,” he said, dropping references to Rush Limbaugh and Michael Steele and reiterating the common Democratic talking point that the GOP is the “Party of No.”

“If there’s a silver lining, it’s that we conserved our resources. We spent half what the RGA spent,” said Daschle. “It was the right call because neither race would have been helped by more spending.” He said the DGA spent $4 million in VA to the RGA’s $5M, and about $3.5 million in New Jersey to the RGA’s $7 million.

I asked Daschle whether he thought Bob McDonnell’s strong performance in the Northern Virginia counties was a byproduct of his local ties there or some larger change in partisan support in these counties which helped Democrats Jim Webb, Mark Warner, Tim Kaine and Barack Obama all carry the state. “I think it was always something of a misnomer that Virginia had become a Democratic state,” he said. As for NoVa voters, he specifically added that “those voters respond to optimistic messages and positive messages and care about how public officials are going to their lives better. The fact that [McDonnell] came from Northern Virginia and reminded people of that in all his signs didn’t hurt. Voters in that part of the state respond to positive, optimistic economic messages.”

Turning to the House, Democrats were more upbeat after winning the two special elections. Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Chris Van Hollen (MD-8) said this about the New York 23rd district race that received nationwide attention:

“Congratulations to Congressman-elect Bill Owens on his remarkable victory. Voters in New York’s 23rd District responded to Bill Owens’ message and track record of creating jobs and attracting economic development to Upstate New York.

“This election represents a double-blow for National Republicans and their hopes of translating this summer’s ‘tea party’ energy into victories at the ballot box. Not only did eight extreme right-wing groups spend more than $1 million to drive the moderate Republican – and the NRCC’s chosen candidate – out of the race. Now, after losing a seat that was held by Republicans for nearly 120 years, they have to deal with an emboldened and well-funded far right-wing that refuses to tolerate moderate Republicans with differing opinions.”

Finally, the RSLC’s Carrie Cantrell, who spoke with 538 Friday, was enjoying a partisan victory lap today. The RSLC issued a press release which reads in part:

Voters across the country last night from New Hampshire to Washington state sent a loud and clear message–Americans want a limited, less overreaching government. Not only did Republicans win all three statewide offices in Virginia for only the second time in history, but gains were made by Republicans in state legislatures in Virginia (+6), New Hampshire (+1), New Jersey (+1), Michigan (+1) and Washington state (+1). The Republican State Leadership Committee, the nation’s largest caucus of Republican state leaders, contributed more than $2.2 million to state races across the country this year and focused on a new media strategy to heighten awareness of these races.

“There will be a lot of talk about what last night’s election means. One thing is crystal clear–the American people have had enough. These overwhelming victories in ‘blue states’ are the result of strong Republican candidates providing commonsense solutions to the real problems facing all Americans,” said Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) President Scott Ward. “Our candidates listened to the voices of the people, and offered a clear vision of fiscal responsibility and economic growth that attracted not only Republicans, but Independents and Democrats as well, to our winning cause. They understand taxpayers are the owners of the government – and that the government ought to let individuals determine their destiny rather than government gimmicks that reduce their freedoms.”

So that’s a roundup of how the parties are spinning yesterday’s results.