News & Politics

Centrist Democrats Notch Big Win

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WASHINGTON, D.C.-If there are any real winners in
yesterday’s elections, they’re the center-right Democrats
gathered around the Democratic Leadership Council.

Their key victory was in the Virginia governor’s race, where Timothy Kaine easily
beat the Republican Jerry W. Kilgore 52-46 percent. In the New Jersey gubernatorial bout, multimillionaire senator Jon Corzine kept that state in the Democratic column.

But while the Dems are hailed as victors, the Texas ban on gay marriage and Kansas’s decision earlier in the week to take on evolution by teaching
creationism in the state schools are signs of
continuing strength by the Christian right.

Kaine, a devout Catholic, showed Democrats can play that game, too. He ran openly against the death penalty in this
red state. He is against abortion. He adroitly used
religion in his campaign, noting in a radio ad, “The
Bible teaches we can accomplish great things when we work together.”

The pros thought the Virginia race would be much closer, especially since Bush handily carried the state
in 2004. Now, Bush is the kiss of death. The
Republican candidate, Kilgore, had done his best to stay
clear of the tumbling president lest he get sucked down with him. To that end, he cancelled out of an appearance with
Bush in Norfolk just days before the election.
But at the last poor Kilgore gave in: His picture,
along with that of a dopey-looking Bush, was plastered
in the media across the state. At least Kilgore maintained his civility to the end.

Kaine’s victory is really a big vote of confidence
for the outgoing governor, Democrat Mark Warner.
Warner is immensely popular, and Kaine ran a
campaign modeled on those of the governor’s.

Warner now becomes a serious prospect for a
Democratic presidential or vice presidential
candidate. He leaves Richmond to build his own
campaign for national office.

A fiscal conservative Warner speaks for what he
calls “sensible center” in an October 21 article in
Blueprint, the DLC magazine. He is a backer of hi-tech
education and shows a tendency among other centrist
Democrats to forge an opening toward the world of
conservative lifestyle issues.

This should be good news for Hillary Clinton.
Warner represents her end of the party, and the party’s
victory in Virginia is another indication she and the
centrists are on the money. In this campaign, the Democrats
used religion straight on. It is clearly a prelude of political battles to come in which the Democrats will take
on the Christian right.

During the race, Kaine talked about his
earlier life as a missionary and, when attacked for
opposing the death penalty, actually ran an ad
pointing out his opposition-arguing along moral
lines against both abortion and putting prisoners to
death. He pledged to carry out Virginia’s capital punishment policy.

By tens of thousands, Kaine carried counties that had gone for Bush
in the last election. Virginia has not backed a
Democratic presidential candidate since LBJ. Virginia
now is viewed as one of the best-governed states in
the country.

Warner, meanwhile, owes his success to the new Democratic model – seek the middle, build concensus. “I’m very proud of the fact that I had
a united Democratic Party behind me,” writes Warner. But I would not be governor of one of the
reddest states in America — Virginia — if I
also hadn’t been able to get support from a
lot of independents and moderate Republicans. If
Democrats are going to become the majority party
in America again, we’ve got to do that all over
the country.”