Left wing eclipsing moderates

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DENVER | There is no doubt that the liberals are now in full control of the Democratic Party and that Sen. Barack Obama is commander in chief of their bid to “take back America.”

The Democratic Leadership Council’s centrist-leaning agenda of free trade, a strong defense and welfare-to-work reform that helped propel Bill Clinton’s rise to power in 1992 is hardly visible here.

Instead, it is the far-left grass-roots organizations who are out in full force and fury here at the Democratic National Convention, raising questions about whether the Obama campaign, by embracing them, risks alienating the moderate swing voters who made Mr. Clinton the first two-term Democratic president since Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Democrats, who have come to favor the term “progressive” to the pejorative “liberal,” took to the floor yesterday to give full-throated voice to what they consider the Bush administration’s assault on society.

“Under Barack Obama’s leadership, we will renew the frayed connection between opportunity for all, and responsibility from all, for our American community,” said Judith McHale, co-chairman of the party platform committee. “We will make it possible for all Americans to serve. We will turn our values into action, standing up for families, supporting our seniors, defending our civil rights and strongly denouncing sexism, which sadly continues to be so prevalent throughout our society.”

Liberals took full credit Monday for their party’s comeback, with the group Take Back America, which seeks to unite progressive leaders, bloggers and activists, issuing a statement saying Mr. Obama’s “success [was] propelled by the progressive base of the party” and that “thousands of progressive leaders and activists will celebrate their victories and chart their course to ‘take back America’ at the Democratic National Convention.”

As if to underscore the shift, Monday night’s tributes and speakers included old-guard figures Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, former President Jimmy Carter and leaders from pro-choice groups and teachers unions.

Mr. Kennedy, the liberal lion who is battling brain cancer, made a surprise appearance to once again embrace Mr. Obama’s candidacy and make another impassioned plea for his longtime dream of universal health care for all Americans.

He was followed by veteran Senate liberal Tom Harkin of Iowa, who has backed Mr. Kennedy’s legislative efforts. But the closest Congress ever came to considering a national health care system was in the early 1990s, when President Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton proposed legislation to provide universal health care for all uninsured Americans. Democrats held majorities in both houses of Congress, but their plan was never brought up for a vote.

The lineup of union-friendly speakers was a big draw for Anne Boley a Wisconsin delegate. Ms. Boley has been a union member for 44 years - 30 as a teacher and 14 working for the National Education Association.

“Union heritage is a family heritage,” she said. “It is important for the people. Unions help strong working families. It is important so we have an educated electorate, and that union members are not just voting for a name. They are learning all they can about the candidate.”

But for a party trying to embrace change, the lineup could have its perils, particularly in moving away from the coalition that helped elect Mr. Clinton, who made inroads in the solid Republican South and won pivotal Midwest states like Michigan and Ohio.

Most head-to-head polls now show Mr. Obama struggling in Ohio and Michigan (an industrial state Democrats have carried four times since the 1980s), where he is in a dead heat with Republican rival Sen. John McCain. He is not leading in any Southern state at this point.

Heading into this week’s convention, independent pollster John Zogby reported that “Obama’s margins among what had been his strongest demographic groups dropped by as much as 12 points.”

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About the Author
Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is the chief political correspondent for The Washington Times, the author of five books and a nationally syndicated columnist. His twice-weekly United Feature Syndicate column appears in newspapers across the country, including The Washington Times. He received the Warren Brookes Award For Excellence In Journalism in 1995 and in that same year was the host and co-writer of ...

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