Democrats find themselves on the sidelines

WASHINGTON – The 55th presidential inaugural showcased an indisputable fact: The Republicans are ascendant, with four more years in the White House and more muscular majorities in Congress. The Democrats, they’re another story.

No one was more emblematic of their reduced fortunes Jan. 20 than Sen. John Kerry, who watched from a prime seat as George W. Bush took the oath for the office he had fought to claim.

Before the ceremony started, the Massachusetts Democrat walked up to the inaugural platform’s edge and peered out at the crowd that stretched from the Capitol grounds to the National Mall. Twice, as his image flashed on the giant screens flanking the stage, the audience booed loudly.

“There has been a lot of talk over the last four years about uniting Americans, I hope now there will be a real effort to make true bipartisanship a priority,” Kerry said in a statement. “I’ll be ready to reach across the aisle anytime we can work in good faith to make our country stronger.”

Others pledged bipartisanship.

The inaugural “would have been much more exciting if it had been John Kerry as president, because John Kerry was my guy,” said Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo. “But once the election is held the election is over and you need to find ways of working together.”

Some Democrats made clear, however, that the fight would begin anew once Congress takes up an ambitious agenda to remake Social Security, overhaul the tax code and tackle controversial immigration policy changes.

“Personally, I don’t feel much like celebrating,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California wrote in an online fund-raising appeal for House Democrats. “So I’m going to mark the occasion by pledging to do everything in my power to fight the extremist Republicans’ destructive agenda.”

There is an upside to the solidly Republican control of the White House, House and Senate, said Rep. Solomon Ortiz, a Texas Democrat who hosted a post-inaugural luncheon for visiting Texans.

“If something goes wrong or doesn’t get done, they have nobody to blame but themselves,” he said.

Eager to avoid Republicans’ boisterous celebrations, some Democrats left town.

A group of Kerry campaign staffers booked a Caribbean cruise. And former campaign communications director Stephanie Cutter headed for Florida’s beaches. “I lived through it once. I don’t need to live through it again,” she said of the inaugural.

Some Democrats were willing to celebrate.

“We just felt it was an historic event. Not since John Quincy Adams had there been a father-son team,” said Felix Vasquez, who traveled from Texas with wife Dina to attend the swearing-in and inaugural parade.

Other Democrats stayed in town, but avoided the festivities.

Phil Singer, who served on the Kerry campaign, spent the day working on reviving Senate Democrats’ prospects. And he planned to cap the evening at a bar popular with Democrats.

“I’ll probably just go to Stetsons and have a couple of beers,” he said. “But I won’t be crying in them.”

Dallas Morning News

correspondent Todd J Gillman in Washington contributed to this report.