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The Joys of Art

Thursday, November 09, 2006

And I heard 'em say

Katrina a factor in GOP defeats
Strategist: Response highlights ineptitude
Thursday, November 09, 2006
By Bruce Alpert
WASHINGTON -- The official who directed the Democrats' successful campaign to win back a majority in the House of Representatives says that the Bush administration's botched early response to Hurricane Katrina played a "very big role" in his party's victory.

I Heard 'Em Say--Kanye West

Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said that Katrina was on the minds of voters, even though few candidates used the hurricane as an issue in ads.

It came up, he said, in individual conversations on the campaign trail because "in many ways it revealed a White House that was both out of touch on the issue of competence that was a selling point for this White House."

Emanuel said the nation watched the suffering in New Orleans, with people waiting for days on rooftops or stuck in the Superdome and the Convention Center, without functioning bathrooms or adequate supplies of food and water and thought to themselves "that's just not how we treat fellow Americans."

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said many people "internalized" what they saw on their TV screens when Katrina hit and that the "shock factor" of seeing their government perform so poorly carried over to the election more than 14 months after Katrina made landfall.

Election experts agreed with Landrieu and Emanuel, although they suggested that it wasn't Katrina alone, but the combination with the continuing difficulties in Iraq that led some voters to question the competency of the Bush administration and to a lesser degree the GOP-led Congress.

"The public perception of incompetence by the Bush team in Iraq and New Orleans was an important factor in the election," said Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution.

Rep. Bobby Jindal, R-Kenner, said that government's slow response in the hours and days after Katrina hit the coast, along with its failure to control costs for everything from blue tarps to trailers, no doubt played a role, but wasn't decisive. He said much of the blame for the GOP defeat, much like the Democrats' ouster in 1994, resulted from voters believing that the majority had lost its way with scandals and excessive partisanship.

Candidates that prominently raised Katrina as an issue found mixed results Tuesday.

Democrat Gabrielle Giffords, who said her volunteer experience in Texas helping Katrina evacuees was a major factor in her decision to run for an Arizona House seat, defeated Republican Randy Graf. But three other Katrina volunteers, two Republicans and a Democrat, lost their House races to incumbents. All three were considered underdogs against their better-known opponents.

Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., and Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who ran as an independent after losing his state's Democratic primary, used their prominent roles in congressional investigations of the federal government's Katrina response to counter claims by opponents that they were too loyal to the Bush administration. Both won re-election.

Although the hurricane hit more than a year ago, an eternity in terms of political attention spans, the slow pace of the recovery in the New Orleans area helped keep the issue fresh in voters' minds, Emanuel said.

Jindal, who easily won re-election Tuesday, expressed hope that Democrats, who credit Katrina with contributing to their victory, will be responsive as the Louisiana delegation continues to seek federal assistance for what no doubt will be a very lengthy recovery period.

I heard 'em say--"We want change!!!"


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