Liberal Democrats Should Remember Three "Rs" Of Mid-Term Elections

Commentary by Pete du Pont

As members of the 107th Congress take their seats this month liberal Democrats, emboldened by Al Gore's victory in the Presidential popular vote, an evenly split Congress and severe political pressure on the Bush Administration for bipartisan outreach, are beginning to send up hostile and divisive trial balloons through the media. It's a strategy that isn't exactly bipartisan and, in the end, could leave them grasping for political straws.

There's an old adage that says, "No man is an island." But if liberal Democrats make good on some of their pre-session threats to obstruct economic and entitlement reforms they could find themselves politically adrift, separated ideologically from an electorate that's starving for bipartisan cooperation. Their obvious goal is to scuttle Republican reforms, stymie Bush Administration initiatives and seize the advantage in 2002's mid-term elections. But the more shrill the diatribe from the Left, the less likely that will occur.

As usual, the Congressional brouhaha could be avoided by a strong dose of common sense. I'll call them the three Rs for success in 2002's midterms. The first is Redistricting. The 2000 census isn't good news for Democrats, especially the liberal wing of the party. By my count, about eight seats and maybe more will move from traditionally liberal strongholds in the East and northern Midwest, where Gore scored heavily in the Presidential election, to the Sun Belt that Bush carried almost without a loss. So it's conceivable if not probable that Democrats could lose all eight.

Then there's Resolution. Congressional races tend to be more locally focused than national elections, especially during midterms. So in order to sustain the voter resolve that led to November's record Democratic turnout, Democrats must transform many varied local issues into a national referendum against George W. Bush. Bush and his aides, meanwhile, will be struggling to push accountability for those issues to the local level. Furthermore, the issues that prompted heavy Democratic turnout-prescription drugs, a patient's bill of rights, Social Security, Medicare and other entitlements-may be settled or have reached consensus stage by 2002.

The third R is Retention. A lot of old-line Democrats reenlisted for the in 1998 and 2000 elections, thirsting for the prospect of returning to majority. It didn't happen either time. And, quite frankly, 2002 looks like an uphill battle also. So why come back? In addition, several gubernatorial chairs will be up for grabs in key states. So some senior Democrats could leave to seek higher office. Others may opt for the country gentleman lifestyle of genteel retirement.

So can the Democrats reclaim majority in 2002's mid-term elections? We'll have to wait and see. History is on their side. Voter disaffection with first term Presidents usually leads to mid-course correction. However, the outlook is far too close for liberal Democrats in Congress to begin counting those new seats before they're won. My advice to liberal Democrats? -Don't play cards you aren't holding. Wait, watch and listen. Give Bush's bipartisan initiatives a chance. They might be just the ticket for the country and its Congress. If not, there's always 2002.