- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Big Democratic gains in Tuesday’s congressional races could produce a new House of Representatives in which both the Republican and Democratic caucuses are more conservative than in the current Congress.

With Republican moderates such as Reps. Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia and Christopher Shays of Connecticut either retiring or facing tough races, forecasters expect the reduced Republican caucus to be even more heavily tilted toward conservatives from safe districts where Democrats do not pose a challenge.

And with moderate Democratic challengers running strong in races across the South, Midwest and West, the expanded Democratic majority could become, on average, more conservative on fiscal, social and security issues than the current 235-Democratic House cohort, and considerably to the right of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and other House leaders.

The scenario “definitely should happen on the Republican side, and it could be the case, at least marginally, with House Democrats,” said Sarah Binder, a former congressional aide and now a professor in government at George Washington University and a fellow at the Brookings Institution.

“For the Democrats, my hunch is that the ‘median’ House Democrat next year will be pretty much at the same place on the spectrum now, but it will depend on where the pickups come,” she added.

The House Blue Dog Coalition - Democrats who are hawkish on government spending and tend to be more conservative on social and foreign-policy issues - have a membership of 49 in the current 235-member Democratic majority, or 20.8 percent.

Arkansas Rep. Mike Ross, a Blue Dog leader, told the Wall Street Journal last week that the coalition could rise to 61 votes in the new Congress. If the party as a whole gains 25 seats, as many forecasters now say, Blue Dogs in that case would constitute 23.5 percent of the new House Democratic caucus of 260.

Analyst Michael Barone, principal author of the “Almanac of American Politics,” said the emergence of more conservative Republican and Democratic House caucuses is “one possible result,” citing the prospect of moderates like Mr. Shay and Mr. Davis leaving.

In yet another paradox, Mr. Barone said that the smaller, more conservative Republican minority could have more influence in an Obama administration with large Democratic majorities in Congress, at least on some issues.

“They’re likely to be shut out of the legislative process, as they have been through most of this Congress,” he said. “But when Obama and/or the Democratic leadership want bipartisan cover or bipartisan support, [House Republicans] suddenly have considerable leverage.”

Democratic strategists see potential pickups for both their more liberal and more conservative recruits, but the next Congress will almost certainly see some dark-blue-tending-toward-purple lawmakers in the new freshman class.

For example, Democrats David Boswell, a state senator running strongly for an open seat previously held by a Republican in Kentucky, and Bobby Bright, former mayor of Montgomery contesting another Republican-held open seat in Alabama, have runs ads touting their pro-life stances and opposition to gun control laws and higher taxes.

A major theme of the campaign of Alaska state legislator Ethan Berkowitz, trying to topple longtime Republican Rep. Don Young, has been his readiness to challenge Mrs. Pelosi and liberals in his own party on such issues as oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

Mr. Berkowitz tells voters he “can’t wait” to go to Washington to “tell Nancy Pelosi that she’s wrong about ANWR.”

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