- The Washington Times - Friday, December 15, 2000

The Democrats are undergoing another gloomy postelection self-evaluation, as they face the next two years with Republicans in control of both the White House and Congress for the first time in nearly half a century.
While Democrats made unexpected gains in the Senate this year, picking up a net four seats, and a slight gain of two seats in the House of Representatives, their overall political strength has significantly weakened over the past eight years under the Clinton administration.
When Bill Clinton and Al Gore took office in 1993, Democrats held a 58-42 majority in the Senate, a 262-173 majority in the House, and controlled 30 governorships and a majority of the state legislatures.
Although the Democrats have made modest gains in Congress since their debacle in 1994, their majority in Congress has vanished, the Democrats' governorships have shrunk to 19 with all of the major statehouses, except California, under Republican control and nearly half the state legislatures in Republican hands.
"We have not fared well under Clinton and that's a clear message and our party needs to look at what's causing that," said Rep. Charles W. Stenholm, Texas Democrat, a leader of the party's conservative Blue Dogs.
One of the things that is eroding the Democratic Party is the "gun [control] position that we traditionally take, and Al Gore nationalizing that issue in the campaign did not help us in the marginal districts," Mr. Stenholm said yesterday in a telephone interview.
"We're just having a difficult time with our old base. The rural areas are vanishing. Rural America is being wiped off the map and with it our political influence," he said. "Many of our issues, like environmental issues and others have not played well in rural America."
Rep. Allen Boyd, Florida Democrat, who is in charge of communications for the Blue Dogs, said that "the Bush message was obviously better received and that's the problem Democrats will have to face in the next election. It's a problem.
"We have to find a way to change the message. One of the issues that we face in the Democratic Party in the House is how that message can be changed so it is endorsed by all the Democrats," Mr. Boyd said.
Democrats and organized labor waged a massive campaign this year to win back the House with little to show for their effort. Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg, who closely tracks congressional races, said that if just two Republican congressmen in Oklahoma and Washington, who did not run again because of self-imposed term limits, had sought re-election, "the Republicans probably would have made a net gain."
But it may be even tougher for House Democrats two years from now. Some of their older veterans, who were talked into staying on for one more term to help their party win back the House, intend to retire rather than stick around in the minority opening up perhaps a dozen or more seats to Republican challengers in 2002.
At the same time, the Democrats appear more fractured than ever before. The centrist-leaning Democratic Leadership Council and the conservative Blue Dog Democrats in the House complain that the party has moved too far to the left and needs to reach out more to suburban, middle-class, middle-American voters.
DLC members in the House note that the bulk of Mr. Gore's support came from heavily Democratic urban strongholds, while President-elect George W. Bush drew most of his support from suburban and more rural constituencies.
Mr. Gore won the support of 90 percent of black voters, who are heavily concentrated in urban areas, but attracted the support of only 43 percent of white voters. Mr. Bush, on the other hand, drew only 8 percent of blacks, but won 53 percent of white voters.
Liberal Democrats, however, say that the party under Mr. Clinton's and Mr. Gore's leadership has been too conservative and needs to move even further leftward with bigger social-welfare spending programs.
With Mr. Clinton leaving the political arena next year, and with no clear Democratic leader, analysts think that liberal activists are going to be emboldened to reassert themselves in the party's policy-making.
The AFL-CIO, which invested millions in House and Senate races, is expected to press party leaders to stop Mr. Bush's tax-cut plans and budget proposals to limit the growth in government spending.
"There is going to be a great divide in the Democratic Party between the old Democrats and the new Democrats. The big winners in this election who are undoubtedly going to flex their muscles are the labor unions and the rest of the left that comprises the Democratic base," said Marshall Wittmann, the chief congressional analyst at the Hudson Institute.
"This is the buzz that is in liberal circles right now. If you add the Gore vote to the Nader vote and look at what happened in the Senate, there's going to be a great desire to return to the Democrats' old-time religion," said Mr. Wittmann.
That liberal base made up of black leaders, unions, environmentalists and feminists "is going to be aggravated, aggrieved and emboldened and they are not going to want any collaboration with the Bush administration," he said.
"And if you are [AFL-CIO President] John Sweeney, he's going to say to House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt and Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle 'we delivered for you, now you keep the defections within your ranks to a minimum," he said.
"The Democratic base is not going to want their elected leaders to be the handmaiden to a Bush honeymoon," he said.

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