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Jewish World Review Feb. 7, 2003 / 5 Adar I, 5763

Dick Morris

Dick Morris
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The Dems give up the House | Have the House Democrats lost their minds? Why did they elect Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a certified liberal, as their leader? Why were they obvious in sitting down during Bush's State of the Union to evidence their dislike of a war against Saddam Hussein that 68 per cent of Americans support (according to the latest Fox News poll)?

Out of their minds? No. They have simply changed their priorities.

Too long out of power, the Democratic Party, both deliberately and subconsciously, gave up its bid to win the House, settling instead for a lifetime guaranteed incumbency for its congressmen that the GOP was only too pleased to offer.

In state after state, a tacit deal emerged between the parties as reapportionment of congressional districts unfolded. Republicans, anxious to preserve their control, put as many Democrats as possible into districts that already had Democratic congressmen to make swing districts more likely to go Republican.

For their part, the Democrats welcomed the initiative. Even when the Democrats controlled the reapportionment, they opted for safety for their incumbents instead of a chance to pick up a House majority.

In California, for example, where Democrats control both houses of the state Legislature and the governorship, Democratic strategists chose to reinforce the incumbencies of the six new members their party had picked up since 1996 rather than spread the Democratic voters more thinly in swing districts.

As a result, all six congressmen, who had won with less than 55 percent of the vote in 2000, won with 59 percent or more in 2002, including two who got more than 70 percent of the vote.

By contrast, the Republicans played reapportionment to win. In Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Texas and, most notably, in Florida, they spread their party loyalists over a host of marginal districts in the hopes of winning extra seats. With guts that the Democrats failed to match, they bet that they could defend their incumbents in their current districts and put new Republican voters into the swing seats they wanted to pick up.

Only in Georgia did the Democrats play the game like the Republicans did. But they so overreached that it blew up in their faces, costing them a Senate seat, a governorship and both new congressional seats.

The Democratic Party knows that it so completely blew the reapportionment sweepstakes, by its excess of caution and refusal to take risks, that the House will remain Republican until the 2010 census, barring a political earthquake. Without hope for power, they are settling for a hassle-free life of comfort, turning the House of Representatives into a body with about as much instability and democracy as the House of Lords.

The result has been a growing introversion among House Democrats - a desire to protect their political base and assure themselves of safe seats.

In this light, the selection of Nancy Pelosi as the House minority leader, inexplicable in any other way, makes lots of sense. Since half of the incumbents who lost in 2002 to non-incumbent challengers were defeated in primaries, not in general elections, the Democratic focus has turned to keeping the base intact and happy.

Opposition to war in Iraq among many Democrats makes equal sense in the context of these changed priorities. If you want to avoid a primary fight, most likely coming from the left if you are a Democrat, you tack liberal to deny any potential challenger running room. The introverted Democratic focus on its political base changes totally the character of their House minority, its goals and its direction.

The House Democrats are back to the days of the 1980s when the party's primaries made it impossible for a nominee to win the presidency. If you could get nominated, you couldn't get elected. Content to be in the House for life, the Democrats are growing fat and happy. As Shakespeare said, "Ambition should be made of sterner stuff."

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JWR contributor Dick Morris is the author of, among others, "Power Plays: Top 20 Winning and Losing Strategies of History's Great Political Leaders" Comment by clicking here.


02/05/03: France: Saddam's ally
02/03/03: War critics will suffer
02/30/03: Even by Clinton standards, it's sheer chutzpah
01/24/03: Rebirth of the balanced budget Republican
01/22/03: Next to Bubba, Dubya's got it good
01/16/03: End racism in affirmative action
01/13/03: The new swing voter
01/10/03: Political e-mailing comes of age
01/07/03: In Dem race: Home field no advantage
12/31/02: Hey, Hillary: Want to appear like a stateswomyn? Stay silent
12/19/02: Kerry in the lead
12/19/02: Lieberman the frontrunner
12/17/02: In defense of Lott
12/02/02: An issue for Bush: Drugs
11/27/02: Women gone wobbly?
11/25/02: The U.N. over a barrel
11/15/02: Gore's suicide
11/15/02 One-party control is an illusion
11/13/02 The House of Extremes
11/08/02 I have egg on my face
11/01/02 Is Bush losing control over events?
10/25/02What is causing Bush's free fall?
10/25/02: Anybody sense a trend?
10/23/02: A deadline for Iraq
10/18/02: Only sure bet of 2002 elections is voter angst
10/16/02: Endangered incumbents
10/11/02: Why multilateralism doesn't work
10/09/02: Hey, Dems: Believe NYTimes polling at your own risk
10/03/02: Dem suicide: Let's count the ways
09/30/02: The Dems just can't stop themselves
09/26/02: The perils of polling
09/19/02: W. boxed in the U.N.
09/19/02: Welfare reform: Keep on keeping on
09/12/02: Are Dems insane on Iraq?
09/09/02: Twin shadows of Election '02
09/05/02: GOP should triangulate
08/28/02: Trust the military
08/22/02: It's not the economy, stupid
08/09/02: As America unites, Gore goes divisive
08/01/02: Bush must focus on big picture
07/23/02: Election 2002: Advantage Dems
07/19/02: Rudy for SEC tough cop
07/17/02: The investor strike
07/15/02: Door open for drug testing students --- go for it, GOP!
07/12/02: Dubya looking out for No. 1?
07/03/02: The DNA war for Bush's soul
06/21/02: Why are conservatives winning?
06/19/02: Learning to love the feds
06/14/02: Hey, journalists and Dems: Dubya is doing just fine
06/12/02: It's terrorism, stupid!
06/10/02: Sanctions are a potent weapon
06/04/02: Al Qaeda's more dangerous new front
05/31/02: Why '04 looks tough for liberal Dems
05/24/02: Democratic self-destruction
05/22/02: The Clinton failures
05/15/02: Pataki positioned to win
05/08/02: A wakeup-call for American Jewry
05/03/02: Give Bush back his focus
05/01/02: Immigration fault li(n)es
04/25/02: It's the war, stupid
04/17/02: Bush goes small bore
04/12/02: Bush must be a gentle partisan
04/10/02: In defense of polling
04/08/02: Focus on Iraq, not the Palestinians
04/01/02: Only Internet will bring real campaign finance reform
03/27/02: Where W's drawn a line in the sand
03/22/02: Enron scandal will not trigger a wave of economic populism
03/20/02: Term-limited --- by war
03/15/02: Europe doesn't have a clue
03/11/02: Bush popularity = GOP win?
03/01/02: Will America be forced to chase its tail in its war on terrorism?
02/27/02: The Arafat/Saddam equilibrium must be destroyed
02/21/02: Campaign finance reform won't hurt GOPers
02/13/02: Dodd scurries for cover
02/11/02: U.S. 'unilateralism'? The Europeans don't have a case
02/06/02: WAR: What women want
02/01/02: They all talk in the end
01/30/01: The odd couple: Chris Dodd and Arthur Andersen
01/22/01: His father's son? Bush better get an 'Act II' fast!
01/18/01: Dubya & the 'vision thing'
01/14/01: The Rumsfeld Doctrine 01/03/01: A President Gore would have been a disaster
01/03/02: Clinton's priority: Political correctness over fighting terror
12/27/01: Terror network grew out of Clinton's inaction, despite warnings
12/24/01: Call 'em back, George
12/18/01: What Bush did right
12/13/01: Libs worry too much
12/11/01: "Open Sesame": Feinstein's proposed bill allows 100,000 non-immigrant students from anti-American countries to our shores
12/07/01: The non-partisan president
12/05/01: Both parties are phony on stimulus debate
11/29/01: When terrorists can enter legally, it's time to change the laws
11/21/01: Go for the jugular!
11/16/01: You are all incumbents
11/14/01: Clinton's failure to mobilize America to confront foreign terror after the 1993 attack led directly to 9-11 disaster
11/12/01: To the generals: Don't worry about losing support
11/08/01: The death of the white liberal
11/07/01: Our leaders are being transformed in a way unprecedented in post-World War II history

© 2002, Dick Morris