NEW YORK – Democrats are doing some soul searching about why they lost not only the presidency this year — they also failed to make a dent in Congress — but also what direction to go in to make sure it doesn't happen again.
"More people tend to agree with Democratic positions pretty much down the line, but voters tend to vote on a broader sense of who shares their values," Doug Hattaway (search), spokesman for the Gore-Lieberman 2000 presidential campaign, told FOXNews.com.
Democrats don't usually frame their vision in that way, Hattaway said. "They tend to focus more on the laundry list of policy issues. … I think one of the main tasks is to define a clear, compelling vision for progressive government that speaks to people's values."
Some top Democrats say they missed the cues that moral values would be a major factor this election year; exit polls found that an equal number of voters said "moral values" and the economy were the top issues that factored into their voting this year.
That's Lesson No. 1.
"I think when you talk about cultural and moral issues, my party has a strong moral core and a strong moral nucleus, but we have to look at how we incorporate our moral compass to providing education, health care and creating jobs and protecting the country," Rep. Harold Ford (search), D-Tenn., told FOX News.
Ford, who has had aspirations of leading his party in the House, said the Democrats are going through "an unfortunate period" and have some work to do to once again be a "national party."
"This is not a period that we cannot recover from or rehabilitate from ... but we have to do some soul searching and thinking," Ford said.
The incoming 109th Congress will have a House represented by at least 231 Republicans, 200 Democrats and one Democratic-leaning independent, Vermont Rep. Bernard Sanders. Two open seats still had to be determined in Louisiana.
Political observers say in order to regain their footing, Democrats have to stand together on something other than being against President Bush.
That's Lesson No. 2.
"One thing in this campaign was true — there was never a love affair with [Democratic presidential nominee] John Kerry," said former Republican Ohio Rep. John Kasich, host of FOX News' "The Heartland."
"Where the Democrats fell down is that their energy was about the fact they hated Bush. That doesn't get you anywhere in politics. At the end of the day, you've got to have a vision and agenda and that wasn't spelled out. I think that's what they've got to search their souls for."
Republicans have been in charge of the House for a decade now and they increased their majority by two seats.
The GOP also has been in control of the Senate for most of that time. This year, not only did the party pick up four previously Democratic Senate seats, it toppled Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (search), D-S.D.
"Democrats are smarting. They're going to have to regroup. They would probably be best to sort of quiet down and think it through a little bit," Washington Post political writer and FOX News political analyst Ceci Connelly said.
"There's a little bit of a plastic moment in the politics right now," added National Review Editor Rich Lowry. "You will see Democrats running scared. You will see them confused … the Bush people realize that. "
President Bush, looking to carve out support among Democrats, has a window of opportunity now, politicos agree. In his first post-election press conference Thursday, he vowed to work with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
"I am fully prepared to work with both Republicans and Democratic leadership to advance an agenda that I think makes a big difference for the country," Bush said.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (search), the California Democrat who leads her party in the House, said this week that Democrats "have lost just about everything that we can lose." Pelosi voiced hope that newly elected House Democrats don't get frustrated when they get to Washington.
"And when they come here, they bring the hopes and aspirations of their constituents," she said. "And I hope their voices will not be snuffed out by the Republican majority in the House."
Hattaway said there are a number of things Democrats can do to better position themselves in the future.
But "first and foremost, I think the Massachusetts liberal senator gave the incumbent president a good run for his money — don't forget that," Hattaway said, adding that his party made progress in terms of voter turnout, registering new voters, and reaching out to independents. "Democrats need to do what Republicans did a while back and articulate a clear, compelling governing vision for the country."
And that's Lesson No. 3.
FOX News political contributor Michael Barone said he would advise Democrats that they need more of a volunteer organization versus a paid one. There's a rising amount of civic engagement among Republicans, he noted.
Andrew Cuomo, Housing and Urban Development secretary under former President Bill Clinton, said the one thing Democrats have to be sure to avoid is finger pointing.
"I think we need to take a breath as Democrats and really reflect on what happened here," Cuomo said. "Obviously we don't know the answer … but I do think we have to avoid two things. We have to avoid finger-pointing at Democrats, the critique now that John Kerry wasn't a good candidate … and I think we shouldn't finger-point at Republicans either. Let's look at the Democratic Party and where did we lose this close election this year."
Republicans didn't control either the House or Senate for 40 years and held very few state legislatures up until 10 years ago. Coming out of the 1960s and 1970s, Hattaway said, "it was not cool to be conservative."
"They regrouped, did an excellent job of defining … a conservative vision for government," which includes smaller government, lower taxes, family values, and a strong defense. The vision "provides a very effective message for the candidates and it really works," said Hattaway.
But he noted that if the Democrats establish a strong party infrastructure and a compelling message, they may have a chance at winning back more seats in the next election.
"Republicans made very impressive gains in the last couple elections" prior to 2004, Hattaway said. "The tide is turning … it's like we're at a turning point, it's not like the doors are shut."