SDSU professors expressed surprise at the considerable losses sustained by Democrats Tuesday but cautioned that reports of a huge national trend towards Republicanism are greatly exaggerated.
According to Dr. Robert Burns, director of political science, President Bush’s extensive campaigning made the difference in many tight Congressional races.
Indeed, South Dakota’s Senate race, which appeared to have been won by Tim Johnson, but was close enough to warrant a recount, was one of the few races that Bush took an interest in that wasn’t a clear Republican victory.
In most midterm elections, the party in opposition to the White House picks up seats in Congress. This didn’t happen this year for only the third time since the Civil War. According to Burns, this is because of the coattail effect.
“He had no seats to lose as a result of the coattails of 2000,” Burns said.
Generally, when a President is elected, he sweeps several members of his own party into Congress with him on his political coat-tails. Since the race between Bush and Gore was so close, Bush had no coat-tails. In the wake of Sept. 11, Bush now has coat-tails to pull Republicans into Congress with.
Some caution that Bush’s coat-tails may not last forever and that history has borne this out. However, the Democrats will need to re-organize for upcoming elections.
“It may take a while for the Democrats to become truly competitive,” Dr. John Miller, professor of history, said.
All in all, neither Burns, Miller, nor Dr. Gary Aguiar of political science were surprised by South Dakota’s strong Republican showing, though the strong showing by the Democratic candidates indicated a slowly growing competitiveness between the two parties, even though the Democrats still have much ground to make up.
“If you’re a Democrat in South Dakota, you’d have to be an optimist,” Aguiar said. “If Johnson pulls it out, he and Healy would be the only two Democrats in statewide races that won.”