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It's not just George Bush

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By John Barnhart

Republicans' zero for three score in recent special elections are certainly revealing, although they have nothing to say about the presidential race. What they show is that "Democrats" have learned something and Republicans haven't.

First, let's look at what the "Democrats" have learned. "Democrats" have learned that, while running on the liberal agenda will score you a House seat in San Francisco or a Senate seat in Massachusetts, it doesn't work in many parts of the country. During the 2006 election, they came up with a strategy that helped them unseat Republican incumbents. They repeated that strategy in Mississippi this month.

That strategy is to come up with "Democrats" who run to the right of where "Democrats" normally run. That played a major role in getting Jim Webb elected in 2006. Webb is certainly no conservative, he's well to the left of George Allen, but he isn't exactly a liberal either. Of course, Allen did Webb a big favor by self-destructing, the fact that Webb's position on the political spectrum put him in a good position to take advantage of this.

The same thing worked in other races, and it worked in Mississippi. Travis Childers ran to the right of where "Democrats" normally run, and defeated Greg Davis, the Republican in what had been considered a safe Republican seat.

Now, for the Republicans. The Republican Party, in general, has not learned anything from its 2006 defeat. Yes, the Iraq War was a factor. Yes, George W. Bush's low approval ratings were a factor. Most of the loss, however, came because the Republican Party totally compromised its political brand during its six years in control of both houses of Congress plus the White House. Instead of standing for conservative principles, the Republicans became the party that stood for nothing in the eyes of many voters.

Republicans have shown little evidence over the last 18 months that they've learned their lesson. True, they haven't had any sex scandals this year that involve airport restrooms or teenage boys, but there's still plenty of time for that. They certainly have done little to refurbish their image of fiscal restraint. Congressional Republicans are still spending like "Democrats" and have sidelined would-be reformers.

The combination of what the "Democrats" have learned and the Republicans haven't is why the Republicans lost a safe seat in Mississippi. It's also why they could well face further Congressional losses in November.

A different set of facts will come into play in the presidential election and "Democrats'" cries of "Third term for Bush!" will be no more effective than Republicans' cries of "Liberal!" had in Mississippi.

John McCain seems to be betting that America has a center-right electorate. I think he is correct in thinking this way and his track record in the Senate plus his willingness to buck his party on some issues positions him well to conduct a center-right campaign. Barack Obama, on the other hand, is very liberal. He has the most left wing voting record of anybody in the Senate. This means that McCain could potentially, paint Obama as a smooth talking snake oil salesman should he attempt to campaign toward the center, covering his leftist track record with eloquent rhetoric.

It also looks like McCain is not willing to let Obama choose the battlefield for their contest. McCain seems determined to go after Obama on foreign policy, a weak point for him where he appears pretty naive.

Other factors could come into play. Obama, for instance, seems even more gaffe prone than Bush the Elder was back in 1988. Take for instance the snotty comments he made last month about how blue collar workers were clinging to their guns and God because they are bitter.

The coming election will be about more than George W. Bush, and using the outcome of three special elections to predict the winner of the presidential election is just partisan political silliness.