- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Some leading Democrats are moving to stake out more conservative positions on gun rights, reconnecting with “people of faith,” and even voting to ban partial-birth abortion as the 2004 election approaches.

Polls have shown that liberal positions on social issues have cost Democrats elections in the past decade, and strategists are urging Democrats to stake out positions in the political center.

At a recent Democratic Leadership Council conference in Atlanta titled “God, Guns and Guts,” DLC officials said their party had to stop avoiding the cultural issues that have helped Republicans make inroads among labor union households, married women, families with children, and religious people.

“It’s time for Democrats to switch from a strategy of avoidance to a strategy of engagement” on cultural issues, said Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute, the DLC’s think tank. “Voters are going to assume the worst unless we set them straight.”

In the last few weeks, a number of Democratic lawmakers — including Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota — have been doing just that on two issues: guns and abortion.

Earlier this month, Mr. Daschle and nine other Senate Democrats threw their support to a Republican bill that would protect gun manufacturers and dealers from liability lawsuits.

“The vast majority of gun owners, manufacturers and sellers are honest and law-abiding,” Mr. Daschle said. “It is wrong, and it is a misuse of the civil justice system, to try to punish honest, law-abiding people for illegal acts committed by others without their knowledge or involvement.”

Mr. Daschle faces re-election in a rural state with many gun owners.

“The center of the party saw that [advocating gun control] was a dead end for the Democrats,” said Wayne LaPierre, the National Rifle Association’s executive vice president.

Democratic strategists have blamed the gun-control issue in part for their loss of the House in 1994. Former President Bill Clinton said after the 2000 election that the gun issue probably cost Vice President Al Gore the election.

But even more surprising than Mr. Daschle’s switch on the pending gun bill were the 17 Senate Democrats — six of whom are running for re-election — who voted for the partial-birth-abortion ban that has been the No. 1 priority of the pro-life activist community.

Mr. Daschle voted for that, too. He said that he had “a lot of misgivings about this bill,” but added that after eight years of debate, “it was time to move on.”

Joining him were Democratic Sens. Evan Bayh of Indiana, Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, John B. Breaux and Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, Kent Conrad and Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota, Ernest F. Hollings of South Carolina, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Zell Miller of Georgia, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Harry Reid of Nevada.

The desertion of so many Democrats on an issue so important to the feminist movement — a core part of the party’s base — shocked pro-choice activists. The Democrats “got nervous,” said Kate Michelman who heads NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Getting religion was another issue discussed at the DLC strategy forum.

Amy Sullivan of Princeton University said Democrats need to connect with people of faith by “genuinely expressing their own religious faith,” by “distancing themselves from militant ‘secularists,’ and speaking out about the moral health of the country.”

Along with other participants at the DLC forum, Ms. Sullivan said that Democrats need to address “concerns about the moral condition of the country and the challenges of families trying to raise children,” she said.

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