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The Dartmouth
March 4, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Cook: both parties have no regrets

Political analyst Charles Cook explained yesterday why the Democrats, both the President and members of Congress, have no regrets about last week's elections.

Approximately 50 students and faculty members attended Cook's speech, "Winners and Losers: Analysis of the 1996 Election." in the Hinman Forum of the Rockefeller Center.

Cook said winners and losers go hand-in-hand in an election. He pointed to the Democratic party's winning the White House but failing to regain a Congressional majority to illustrate his point.

Cook said the Democrats' ability to raise an unprecedented amount of money this year showed they had given the Congressional campaign their best shot. But he said some Congressional Democrats may have misjudged their ability to be re-elected this year.

"A bunch of Democratic incumbents retired in '95 foreseeing that they wouldn't make it this year," he said. "Nine out of 10 incumbents would have made it this year."He commended Congressional Republicans for their "Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes" strategy.

"Two weeks before the elections, something happened in favor of the Republicans," Cook said, implying that the last weeks before election day were pivotal.

"By the time the elections came along the Democratic message seemed to have evaporated," he said.

Cook said Republicans held back most of their campaign money until the last minute and waited for Democratic support to wear thin.

Simultaneously, the Republicans replaced most of their positive campaign ads with more negative advertising to boost their ratings he said.

The Republican's strategy was necessary, Cook said, because the party had chosen excessively strong rhetoric when addressing important social and economic issues.

"Republican rhetoric created anxieties during the campaign," he said.

Cook said he foresees a similar level of unrest in the newly-elected Congress.

"My concern is that things will be getting ugly again," he said.

Cook said the next few years will bring many polarizing and controversial issues.

"Next year the Senate will be much more polarized," he said. "The Democratic senators will grow increasingly liberal while the Republicans will grow increasingly conservative."

The resurgence of the Whitewater case and the civil suit filed against Clinton for alleged sexual harassment should enliven the political arena, Cook said.

Cook discussed President Clinton's win briefly at the beginning of his speech, noting that the incumbent president made a strong comeback in order to seize re-election.

"A different president and a different administration showed up in '95 and '96 than showed up in '93 and '94," Cook said.

While Clinton might have won the presidential race, Cook said, the President suffered a loss in his inability to solicit 50 percent of the vote -- a goal he had set for himself.

Cook said this year's presidential race was virtually unwinnable for the Republicans.

The Republicans would have needed both a better candidate and campaign as well as a something like a severe scandal or unpopular war effort to win against Clinton, Cook said.

In response to a question following his speech about what each party needs to do to succeed in the next election, Cook recommended that the Republicans strengthen their support in New England and the Democrats need strengthen their southern base.

Cook is the editor of The Cook Political Report, which analyzes American politics with an emphasis on Congressional and presidential elections for more than 700 subscribers.