Friday, August 19, 2005

Democrats hoped they would be scoring political points in this year’s election cycle as a result of increasing terrorist violence in Iraq and skyrocketing gasoline prices that have combined to send President Bush’s job-approval ratings plunging into the low 40s.

But things are not turning out as they hoped. The Democrats are beset by internal division over the lack of an agenda, carping from liberals who say party leaders are not aggressive enough in challenging Mr. Bush’s nomination of Judge John G. Roberts Jr. to the Supreme Court, bitterness among abortion rights activists after criticism by Democratic leaders that forced them to pull a TV advertisement attacking Judge Roberts, and complaints from pollsters that they have no coherent message to take into the 2006 elections.

Independent pollster John Zogby says that although Mr. Bush is not doing well in the polls, the Democrats aren’t doing any better.

“The Democrats aren’t scoring points in terms of landing any significant punches on Bush or in terms of saying anything meaningful to the American people,” Mr. Zogby said.

In a slap at his party, Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg said earlier this month that his surveys show that “one of the biggest doubts about Democrats is that they don’t stand for anything.”

Mr. Greenberg found growing fissures among Hispanics on issues that could cut into the Democrats’ vote next year.

“Social issues, like abortion and gay marriage, create a modest crosscurrent in the Hispanic community that contributed, perhaps marginally, to the erosion of the Hispanic vote” in the 2004 presidential election, he said.

Hispanics who voted Republican were “slightly more pro-life and slightly more favorable to pro-life groups,” he said. His survey also found significant Hispanic opposition — 34 percent — to any new immigration.

Democratic strategists say the abortion rights movement’s leading group, NARAL Pro-Choice America, is angry about the way party leaders turned on NARAL’s TV ad accusing Judge Roberts of “supporting violent fringe groups and a convicted [abortion] clinic bomber.”

“We have to define the reckless left of our party and differentiate ourselves,” former Clinton White House adviser Lanny Davis told The Washington Post, calling the ad “smear and innuendo.”

Other Democrats, including Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware and campaign strategist Robert Shrum, similarly denounced the ad. Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, when asked about the ad, refused to discuss it.

“I’m not even going to get into that,” he said.

Eager to show that they can be competitive in congressional races, Democrats are pointing to Paul Hackett, who received 48 percent of the vote in the Aug. 2 special House contest in Ohio’s heavily Republican 2nd District.

But analyst Stuart Rothenberg says Democrats have exaggerated the significance of the race, which Republican Jean Schmidt won.

“Hackett’s race may well be an aberration rather than a model for the future,” he wrote in Roll Call. “Few serious GOP candidates next year will run efforts as inept as Schmidt’s.”

Other analysts agree.

“Democrats dream of a 2006 turnaround, but the odds against it are daunting,” Congressional Quarterly said this month in a state-by-state review of next year’s contests.

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