Partisans and pundits parsing the election seem to agree that the signal from voters is that the political parties need to work together, though the question of whether voters sent a “mandate” to Washington remains a sore subject of debate.
Tim Kaine, the Democratic senator-elect for Virginia, said he believed President Obama did win a mandate but that the voters are saying the divisions in Washington need to melt away.
“The president definitely has a mandate,” Kaine said on NBC’s The Today Show. But because Democrats retained control of the Senate and Republicans maintained the House, Kaine said, “I basically think the American public is saying to us ‘We want cooperative government. We don’t want all the levers in one party’s hands. We are going to force you to work together.’”
The risks of going off the fiscal cliff are so great it will force the parties to work together, he said. “There is so much bad that is going to happen by year-end if we go over this fiscal cliff that I think that is going to bring both parties together for a solution,” he said.
The Wall Street Journal’s conservative editorial page was quick to say that Obama’s victory came without a mandate. “Mr. Obama will now have to govern the America he so relentlessly sought to divide—and without a mandate beyond the powers of the Presidency,” the paper wrote.
Several members of Congress pointed to the election as a mandate to address the nation’s fiscal ills.
“This election is now past us,” Rep. Tammy Baldwin, the Senator-elect in Wisconsin, said on CNN. “I think the American people and I certainly think that the people in the state of Wisconsin are looking for us to work together. We have very clear challenges facing us with the elements of the fiscal cliff. They want to see us responsibly work to settle those issues.”
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said on CNN that, “it's very clear from the exit polling that a majority of Americans recognize that we need to share responsibility in reducing the deficit.”
He continued: “That means asking higher income earners to contribute more to reducing the deficit,” he said. “So, that was one of the clear messages. That was one of the central themes in this campaign. The president won. And I think it's important that Republicans on the hill recognize that the American people have said a balanced approach is necessary.”
For his part, former Speaker and former Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich said Republican control of the House should not be underestimated. “Remember, there are two mandates that came out of yesterday. John Boehner and the House Republicans do control the House of Representatives,” he said.
He also said the outcome would force the Republican Party to do some serious reflection.
“Republicans are going to have to take a very serious look at what happened and why did it happen, and why were we not more competitive at the presidential level,” he said on CNN. “This is a very serious moment, and again, those of us who were Republican activists, and some of the supposedly best analysts on our side in the conservative movement, were just wrong. We have to think about, what does that teach us?”
Sophie Quinton and lara Seligman contributed.