New faces on the Hill

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Congratulations are in order for the nine new senators and 37 representatives who comprise the class of 2004 in the House and Senate. Each will have to prove him or herself as Republican-controlled Washington moves forward on the Bush administration’s agenda in January.

At the top of our list are Senators-elect John Thune, Mel Martinez and David Vitter, each of whom delivered advances in their own way for the GOP and for the conservative agenda.

Mr. Thune, who handed Republicans Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle’s defeat in a hotly contested and closely watched race, showed what happens to a senator — even a powerful one — who acts against the wishes of his constituents. By Election Day the race had turned into a referendum on Mr. Daschle’s record of political obstructionism against President Bush and his administration. Mr. Thune’s views — pro-life, pro-tax cut and supportive of a federal marriage amendment — comport more readily with those of his constituents, and with Mr. Bush’s.

Mr. Martinez, meanwhile, delivered Republicans Bob Graham’s seat, besting Betty Castor in another closely watched race. In so doing he accomplished two important things: He mobilized the Hispanic vote for the GOP, and he showed that phony antiterror postures don’t cut it in major elections these days. Republicans hope Mr. Martinez is leading Hispanic voters to the party in great numbers. On antiterror policy, Mr. Martinez showed that questionable claims of toughness can’t excuse doves and appeasers from public scrutiny.

Mr. Vitter, meanwhile, is set to become the first Republican senator from Louisiana since Reconstruction. He replaces retiring Democratic Sen. John Breaux and marks another chapter in the conversion of the South from good-old boy Democratic politics to conservative Republican consolidation.

In the House, top marks go to Texas Republican incumbents Pete Sessions and Randy Neugebauer, who ousted longtime Democratic Reps. Charles Stenholm and Martin Frost in highly competitive redistricted races. We also commend Mike Sodrel of Indiana for delivering his southern Indiana district to Republicans for the first time in four decades.

For the Democrats, we’d like to congratulate Colorado’s brothers Salazar: Ken, a former state attorney general, is one of only two Democrats to replace a Republican in the Senate; John, a state legislator, will now be a congressman. We’re pleased to see two moderates like the brothers Salazar representing mostly conservative Colorado.

Now comes the hard part. The undivided energies of lawmakers green or seasoned will be required to tackle pressing issues like the Iraq war, intelligence reform, Social Security and Medicare, the judiciary, and gay “marriage,” among others. We hope to see as much bipartisan comity as possible when the new Congress convenes in 2005. Here’s to hoping the new faces in Congress will work toward those ends.

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