Republicans looking for the future of their party should review recent history, suggested The Wall Street Journal's John Fund at a conference I attended last week.

Fund recommended Republicans look for President Ronald Reagan's "persistent, realistic optimism," and remember the GOP performed worse in the elections of 1974 and 1976 than 2006 and 2008, only to recover shortly afterward.

Projecting through elections still in contest from the 2008 Election, Democrats will likely outnumber Republicans in the House of Representatives 259 to 176; in the Senate 58 to 42; and with governors 29 to 21. In contrast, after the 1976 Election, Republicans had only 143 representatives, 38 senators, and 12 governors.

Republicans lost an election, but rumors of the party's death are greatly exaggerated. Four years after 1976, Reagan won a landslide and inspired a generation of conservatives.

Meanwhile, 2008 election results do not show a shift in American political philosophy. Fund pointed to the successes of conservative state initiatives across the country as evidence of an electorate more conservative than the myth in the monolithic liberal victory headlines. If anything, conservatives rebuked the GOP. Four years ago, George W. Bush energized his conservative base to bank 4.5 million more votes than the moderate John McCain did this year.

Fund recalled a speech Reagan gave to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) shortly after the inauguration of President Jimmy Carter. Reagan's message: conservatism works; liberalism fails. He promised if the Carter Administration tried liberalism, it would fail, and the nation would turn to Republicans.

So it was, and in 1980 the nation turned to Reagan. Fund described the 96 of 102 quarters of positive economic success resulting from Reaganomics as "an unparalleled string of economic growth." The opportunity for these achievements came from Carter's political failures. Shortly after Bill Clinton's 1992 election, Reagan hosted a reunion of close advisors and reaffirmed his prediction. Reagan said Clinton would act liberally and give Republicans an opportunity to come back to power. He did. They did.

Fund observed demographic voting behavior changes decided the 2008 Election. Barack Obama won a majority of wealthy people. Those Obama said he would tax, voted for him. "That's like asking the chickens to deliver themselves to Colonel Sanders and they show up," joked Fund. Of self-described conservatives, 12 percent believed McCain would cut their taxes, while 19 percent expected a tax cut from Obama.

While black, Hispanic, and youth voting blocks did not turn out in significantly greater numbers this year, they disproportionately voted Democratic. In 2004, Democrats received 88 percent of the black vote; this year they received 95 percent. In 2004, Republicans received 43 percent of the Hispanic vote; this year they only received 32 percent. Fund noted one-quarter of all of Obama's votes came from young people.

He argued if Obama governs from the center to establish a consensus and effective administration, he can, like Franklin Roosevelt and Reagan before him, shape a generation of voters. Fund told centrists their greatest hope is that the government simply can't afford Obama's promises, "liberals have won but they have absolutely no money to pay for it."

But he expects Obama will bow to left wing pressures. "The interest groups don't just feel they have bought this election," said Fund, "they think they won this election," and they will want the spoils of victory. Liberals have waited a long time. Since 1978, they have only held control of the Presidency and congress for two years (1993-1994).

Last week Republican governors gathered in Miami. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin attracted the attention of the press, but successful conservative governors attracted the attention of their colleagues. The Republican Governors Association chose South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford as chairman, and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour as vice chairman. Barbour said it is too early to talk about 2012. But others are talking, and many Republicans list Barbour and Sanford on their shortlists for a national ticket.

Reagan, himself a former governor, taught his White House Political Director Haley Barbour "good policy is good politics." The converse is also true. Bad policy is bad politics and if Obama implements liberalism, he will fail. For Carter that meant one term; for Clinton that meant a Republican congress. What that will mean for Obama will be up to Republicans who heed the echoes of that California governor whose predictions proved true.

(CORRECTION: Contrary to my column last week, Attorney General Jim Hood is not the all time record holder for votes by a Democrat in Mississippi. Eric Clark set that record in his final re-election bid for Secretary of State in 2003 with 610,461 votes. Also trumping Hood are George Dale with 610,341 votes and Lester Spell with 564,283 votes, both in their successful 2003 re-election campaigns for insurance and agriculture commissioners respectively. Spell is now a Republican.)

Brian Perry of Jackson, a former congressional aide, is a partner in a public affairs firm. Reach him at