Democrats, GOP offer different takes on voters’ message


The fiscal cliff is looming, and so is the next round of elections.

The question now, with Democratic President Obama the victor in all but one of the swing states, including all-important Ohio: Did the Democratic Party get a mandate from the voters and did the Republican Party get spanked?

While Mr. Obama extended a verbal olive branch to Republicans in his victory speech Tuesday, other Democrats did some victory dancing.

Vice President Joe Biden said Republicans should engage in a little "soul-searching" about the things their party believes.

“On the issue of the tax issue, there was a clear, a clear sort of mandate about people coming much closer to our view about how to deal with tax policy," Mr. Biden said. The administration campaigned to repeal the Bush-era tax cuts on incomes above $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for families.

"And you know I just think it’s going to take time for the Republicans to sort of digest what the consequences [are] for them internally," Mr. Biden said.

Ohio Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern, who is also the newly elected state representative from Ottawa and Erie counties, said Mr. Obama's policies got the stamp of approval from the voters.

"The President ran on a platform that was consistent and clear: It’s time the wealthiest among us pay a little more. He laid it out, the people of this state, the people of this country, supported it. The time for political argument has passed. It’s now time to sit down and craft a comprehensive budget agreement," Mr. Redfern said

But Robert Bennett, chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, said Mr. Obama's victory did not rise to a mandate. He noted that Mr. Obama lost two states that he won in 2008 — Indiana and North Carolina — and carried Ohio with less than half the margin of victory that he had in 2008.

"If there's a mandate, there's a mandate that the American people want the President and the Congress to get together and solve the problems," Mr. Bennett said.

Mr. Bennett refused to throw the Tea Party under the bus.

“Eighty percent of the people in the Tea Party are fiscal conservatives. Their No. 1 agenda is to solve the debt problem, solve the deficit problem," Mr. Bennett said. "The Tea Party movement, in my opinion, is a very important coalition in the Republican Party."

But he went on to say that “there’s two things we have to address — the gender gap with women, and we have to recognize that the fastest-growing demographic group is Hispanics. We’re not going to expel 11 million people from the United States. Those are the two things that I think the Republican Party going forward should address."

House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio), who campaigned for Republican nominee Mitt Romney, raised the hopes of liberals when he gave a statement the day after the election that he was willing to consider new revenues to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, a draconian set of automatic tax hikes and budget cuts that will take effect automatically unless Congress acts soon.

But he clarified a couple days later that he was talking about "tax reform," which to conservatives typically means broadening the tax base and eliminating some loopholes and deductions, not repealing tax cuts.

In a statement, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said, “The American people did two things: They gave President Obama a second chance to fix the problems that even he admits he failed to solve during his first four years in office, and they preserved Republican control of the House of Representatives.”

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D, Ohio), who was elected Tuesday to a second, six-year term, said the meaning of the election was unambiguous and accused Republicans of having just one priority.

"The Republican Party's priority for the last 10 years has been tax cuts for the rich. The electorate clearly rejected that," Mr. Brown said. He said raising taxes on the wealthy won't solve all of the deficit problem, now at about $1 trillion a year in government spending above what the government takes in. But he said no one item will solve the entire problem.

"I think the public is first and foremost interested in job creation. The public wants us to work together. I think we deal with the deficit first by increasing taxes on the wealthiest people but with some balance to the whole thing," Mr. Brown said.

By balance, he said he did not mean raising the retirement age for Social Security and Medicare.

U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green) won re-election in his northwest Ohio 5th Congressional District with 57.2 percent of the vote against Democrat Angela Zimmann, who got 39.2 percent of the vote. The race followed an aggressive campaign that targeted Mr. Latta for his votes against Planned Parenthood and the auto industry bailout. Libertarian Eric Eberly got 3.5 percent of the vote.

“I’m not sure there was a clear message sent in the election. I’m not sure there was a clear mandate," Mr. Latta said. He noted that voters kept the House Republican, although the Democrats gained a handful of seats.

“Once again we’ll have a divided Congress,” Mr. Latta said. He said Mr. Boehner has reached out to Mr. Obama, and he said the President has to bend as well. "It harkens back I think to President Reagan's terms when he worked with [Democratic House Speaker] Tip O’Neill," Mr. Latta said. "Hopefully we'll have more communications from the White House."

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), who defeated Republican Samuel "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher with 73 percent of the vote in the new 9th Congressional District, said the election has to be read as an endorsement of the President's position on raising taxes on higher incomes.

"One has to acknowledge that he won the election, and the fiscal policies were not hidden. It was in almost every speech he gave. So you would expect that we'll get an indication of where they think compromise is possible, at least that's my hope," Miss Kaptur said in an interview Thursday. "I'm going back Saturday night and we'll be voting all next week. We'll see what the parties can agree to but I think the country wants resolution."

She reserved judgment on what the Republicans might propose in the way of eliminating loopholes and exemptions but said, "If you're going to take away people's home mortgage deduction in a very callous way, that's not going to pass the Congress."

Miss Kaptur may soon be in an enhanced position to wield power in the Congress. She is the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, which puts her in line to become the ranking member, who speaks for the minority members on the committee.

However, she also has to win a leadership election and Miss Kaptur is facing competition from Rep. Nita Lowey (D., N.Y.).

The leadership election — one of many posts that will be in play as Congress retools for its next session — could happen as late as the end of this month.

Many policy and political issues will be shaped by the election that was just concluded. Among them will be the 2014 race for governor of Ohio.

Mr. Redfern said Mr. Obama's re-election also was a vote for the President's health-care law that Gov. John Kasich has opposed.

"John Kasich is the only person it seems who continues to stand against the people of this state when it comes to health-care opportunity, and we’ll take this message to the people of the state over the course of the next two years and I believe that Governor Kasich will answer for it next gubernatorial cycle," Mr. Redfern said.

A spokesman for Mr. Kasich said the governor’s efforts at boosting the state’s economy are succeeding.

"The progress that jobs-friendly policies are producing for this state is why Ohioans returned Republican majorities to the Senate and House,” Scott Milburn said. “We're getting Ohio back on track and the governor looks forward to working with people of every political stripe to keep that momentum going."

Mr. Bennett said Mr. Kasich will be in good position to be re-elected in two years.

"Governor Kasich will be judged on his record. Look at the job creation — over 120,000 jobs created since he took office. Everyone said he couldn't balance the budget without increasing taxes, but he did. Now people are talking about relocating, expanding in Ohio," Mr. Bennett said.

Contract Tom Troy at: or 419-724-6058.