Republicans did a better job than Democrats of capturing swing voters (except in the Arizona governor's race) in last week's elections.

Democrats, disappointed with the national outcome, will expend a lot of energy finger-pointing and navel-gazing to decide whether to go left or right to win votes. My view is that Democrats must remember what it is about their party that distinguishes them from Republicans, but also must be careful not to hew too far to the left if they want to win in 2004.

Newspapers and TV stations have made much of Democrat Janet Napolitano's margin of victory in Pima County, but that's not what won the governor's race.

Napolitano prevailed primarily because she neutralized opponent Matt Salmon's advantage in heavily Republican Maricopa County. Salmon was an example of what happens when a party skews too much to the extreme. He lost thousands of Republican women voters to Napolitano.

A GOP gubernatorial candidate should win, given Arizonans' preferences. But Republicans favored right-winger Salmon over centrist Secretary of State Betsey Bayless in the primary.

Democrats take heed. The party that captures the middle without alienating its base wins. This year, Republicans. Next time, Democrats?

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