- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 24, 2005

You would think after all that has been written about the Democratic Party’s seeming lack of unity, after all the election losses, after a virtual exodus by longtime segments of its rank-and-file members, that its leadership would stop the internal sniping and message-bungling, get it together and at least try to have it act like a unified national party.

As I wrote earlier this month, polls show Democrats are closing the approval gap not because of a bump on their part but a backslide in the president’s job-approval polls into the low 40s (apparently due to rising casualties in Iraq and skyrocketing gasoline prices). Hardly something for them to crow about, and a trend underscoring the party’s festering stagnation.

Overall, Democrats continue to be beset by disagreement about what to do in Iraq; criticism from liberals who say its leaders are giving George W. Bush a virtual free ride on his Supreme Court nominee, Judge John Roberts; and complaints from party pollsters that they have no coherent message to take into the 2006 elections.

In recent polling data, Veteran Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg found growing fissures throughout the Democrats’ base — particularly among Hispanics on social issues — which could cut into their overall vote in 2006 and 2008.

Reviewing what led to the erosion in the Democrats’ Hispanic vote last year, when Mr. Bush won 40 percent of this pivotal minority vote, Mr. Greenberg’s findings on key social issues have shocked party strategists.

Hispanics who voted Republican, he said, were “slightly more pro-life and slightly more favorable to pro-life groups. A pro-life Democrat runs better than a pro-choice one, and almost half of Hispanic voters [48 percent] say they would be more likely to support a pro-life Republican.”

I’m sure that data, when first reported, surprised party leaders. The pro-choice movement has been one of the Democrats’ strongest voter-turnout constituencies, but even now there’s a rift opening among that party’s subset.

Party strategists say its leading advocacy group, NARAL Pro-Choice America, is bitter Democratic leaders turned on NARAL’s incendiary TV ad accusing Judge Roberts of “supporting violent fringe groups and a convicted clinic bomber.”

This time, though, Republicans found themselves outgunned by Democrats, who vehemently condemned the ad. “We have to define the reckless left of our party and differentiate ourselves,” Clinton White House adviser Lanny Davis told The Washington Post, calling the ad “smear and innuendo.”

Other Democrats, from Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware to John Kerry’s campaign strategist Robert Shrum, similarly denounced the ad, forcing NARAL to pull it off the airwaves. Even National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, who wants his party to “stand and fight for what it believes in,” refused to defend NARAL saying, “I’m not even going to get into that.”

Democrats believe they can be competitive again in next year’s House and Senate races and have been congratulating themselves on how well they did in a recent congressional election they narrowly lost Aug. 2. That’s where Paul Hackett, a Iraq War veteran and bitter war critic, won 48 percent of the vote in a special House race for an open seat in Ohio’s heavily Republican 2nd District.

But “Hackett’s race may well be an aberration rather than a model for the future,” independent elections analyst Stuart Rothenberg told the Capitol Hill weekly, Roll Call.

There’s no doubt Mr. Hackett was a stronger-than-expected candidate, but Republican Jean Schmidt ran a very weak campaign that had no message, and she refused to attack her opponent. “Few serious GOP candidates next year will run efforts as inept as Schmidt’s,” Mr. Rothenberg said.

The parallel between Mrs. Schmidt’s inept, barely successful campaign, and the Democratic Party’s astounding lack of overall success, should snap its leaders back to reality. At least you would think so.

Few outside of diehard Democrats suggest they have any chance to recapture the House or Senate unless a dramatic change occurs in the political environment next year. In a state-by-state review of next year’s House races, Congressional Quarterly reports “Democrats dream of a 2006 turnaround, but the odds against it are daunting.”

Mr. Bush may be having his troubles right now but his agenda is getting passed in Congress, he has a set of core beliefs most of America (I cite the presidential elections) relates to, and his party’s base is united behind him.

That can’t be said for the Democrats who have no agenda for change, whose base is splintered or shrinking and whose last election was a House race they lost, albeit narrowly, against a Republican who didn’t have much to say.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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