WASHINGTON – Several weeks ago,the National Press Club booked the national chairmen of the Republican and Democratic parties to speak to reporters at a luncheon Thursday,two days after the presidential election.
With President Bush winning re-election and Republicans boosting their majority in Congress,guess which party chairman canceled his appearance.
The absence of Democratic Chairman Terry McAuliffe left Republican Chairman Ed Gillespie alone to bask in the GOP's election success.
“The party is more unified than I've seen it since President Reagan was in the White House,” he said. “The intensity we enjoyed among Republican voters really propelled us in this campaign.”
Before taking questions from reporters,Gillespie offered a stream of good news statistics for Republicans. Bush became the first president elected whose party also gained seats in the House and Senate since 1936,he said.
Republican John Thune took Majority Leader Tom Daschle's seat as Republicans gained four senators,giving them 55 to the Democrats' 44. The GOP also expanded its lead in the House of Representatives by a few seats.
Republicans turned out the same number of voters as Democrats on Tuesday,better than in 2000 when Democrats had a 4-percentage point lead in turnout,Gillespie said.
Gillespie attributed that to the GOP's largest grassroots campaign ever. He said in the final three days before the election,some 150,000 Republican volunteers visited or made phone calls to 13 million voters. Throughout the campaign,the GOP directly contacted about 30 million voters,he said.
“We're a much better organization when we're going from the bottom-up than from top-down,” said Gillespie,who took over the Republican National Committee in July 2003.
Gillespie touted Republican gains in support from minorities and women. He said exit polls show 44 percent of Hispanics supported Bush,up from 36 percent in 2000. He also cited small gains in black and women voters.
Republicans are excited about exit polls that show 16 percent of black voters in Ohio went for Bush,Gillespie said. He predicted that whoever gets the GOP presidential nomination in 2008 will win 30 percent of the black vote.
Gillespie said the president's second-term agenda would not necessarily be more conservative now that he has more support in Congress. Expect the president to pursue Social Security reform,medical liability reform and permanent tax cuts.
“I don't think he's going right. I think he's going forward,” Gillespie said.
Asked if there were any disappointments for the GOP on Tuesday,Gillespie said the party lost a few governorships and state legislatures. “I think that's the only dark cloud so far,” he said.
Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Elizabeth Alexander said McAuliffe canceled after DNC and Press Club officials agreed Wednesday that a Kerry campaign strategist would be better suited to answer questions about the campaign.
But to be fair to Gillespie,the Press Club offered him the chance to speak alone,which he accepted,said NPC President Shelia Cherry,who moderated the event.
Even after the election,Gillespie couldn't resist slipping into a few popular Republican talking points. Answering a question about the polarization of the country and differences between the parties,Gillespie said Democratic nominee John Kerry was the most liberal U.S. senator,having voted to increase taxes 98 times.