FRANKFORT — After taking a drubbing in national elections but holding their own in Kentucky, Republican leaders said the party will move forward on both fronts by serving as a firm, moderating force to keep Democrats in check.
"I know I speak for Republicans everywhere when I say we owe it to the American people to put the 'loyal' back in loyal opposition," said Republican National Committee Chairman Robert "Mike" Duncan. "The facts do refute absolutely the preposterous idea that this election represents a mandate for another New Deal or that it is the death rattle of Republican conservatism."
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Duncan, an Inez banker who now heads the RNC, told the Kentucky Republican Party's central committee Saturday that President-elect Barack Obama's first test will be whether he can keep congressional Democrats — he mentioned House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy, among others — from straying too far from the political center.
"If President Obama stands by his word and fulfills the moderate-conservative campaign promises that got him elected, the Republican Party will stand with him," Duncan said. "But if he stands instead with the leaders in the most liberal Congress in a generation we must stand against him and for and with the center-right nation that we serve."
He said a majority of Americans still believe in core conservative economic principles, such as making government smaller, reducing spending and opposing tax increases.
Duncan acknowledged that Obama campaigned on messages that echoed those of Republicans of past generations, particularly on cutting taxes and slashing wasteful government spending.
"Put simply, Barack Obama just ran the most successful moderate Republican presidential campaign since Dwight Eisenhower," Duncan said.
Several Kentuckians from both parties have said in the days since Obama's election that he should govern from the political middle.
U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Versailles and a member of the conservative Democrats' Blue Dog Coalition in Congress, said he expects Obama to focus on policies that will bolster the middle class and do so without seeming too liberal.
"I think he's going to do it by making proposals that a lot of moderate Republicans can live with," Chandler said.
U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, whom Kentuckians re-elected Tuesday, also reached out to Obama to pledge the GOP's cooperation by swiftly confirming "well qualified nominees" Obama selects for Cabinet posts.
Obama spoke briefly with McConnell by phone Thursday while McConnell was grocery shopping at the Bardstown Road Kroger in Louisville, said Robert Steurer, McConnell's spokesman. Both men pledged to work with each other during the five-minute call and will talk again when they return to Washington, Steurer said.
That type of approach should be the norm for Republicans and Democrats at all levels of government, said Republican state Senate President David Williams, who specifically mentioned Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear.
"We're going to reach our hand out the way Sen. McConnell did to the president-elect," said Williams, of Burkesville. "But we're not going to give him free rein in Frankfort. There's a two-party system alive and well."
Members of the Republican Party of Kentucky's central committee expressed mixed emotions about Tuesday's elections, which saw the party lose the White House and ground in Congress but score key wins in Kentucky.
In the state's two biggest races, McConnell was elected to a fifth term, while state Sen. Brett Guthrie of Bowling Green won the open 2nd Congressional District seat.
"I'm so happy with our victories in Kentucky but so disappointed over our national loss," Duncan said.
On the state level, Williams continued to best Beshear in elections by fending off the Democrats' bids to take over as many as three state Senate seats in Tuesday's elections.
Williams said the GOP's win with David Givens in the open 9th District race on Tuesday was "a crusher to the Democratic Party."
That comes after the Republicans captured a traditionally Democratic seat in Eastern Kentucky in a February special election. Combined, Republicans raised roughly $900,000 for state Senate campaigns in 2008, Williams said.
U.S. Rep. Geoff Davis, R-Hebron, touted Republicans' successes in beating back the Democrats' attempt to unseat GOP state Sen. Jack Westwood and GOP state Rep. Adam Koenig in Kenton County. In 2010, Republicans should go on the offense, he said.
"My friends on the other side had a chance to stay out of our area this last race," Davis said. "I think we all ought to go hunting and we're going to take the battle to them."