This should be a sweet time for Democrats. On the eve of the November elections, the party can almost taste its return to power in Congress.
Yet party leaders are acting so . . . Democratic. They’re squabbling over the Iraq war and whether to spend money on building the party in general or on targeting competitive races in November. The big brouhaha may be over who should lead if they win control of the House.
The Republicans’ unity before their takeover of Congress in 1994 was something to behold. House GOP leader Bob Michel’s retirement had paved the way for Newt Gingrich to take control without a messy leadership fight, and every Republican candidate sang from the same hymnal, the GOP’s “Contract With America.”
Democrats have never considered unity a virtue.
House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and whip Steny Hoyer are in line to become speaker and majority leader if the Democrats capture the House. But they’re not pals.
Pelosi has history going for her: She would be the first female speaker. Problem: She also represents ultraliberal San Francisco, home of gay rights, illicit drugs, and other targets of the GOP’s culture war. Republicans are trying to scare voters with the specter of Speaker Pelosi—second in line for the presidency—if Democrats retake the House. And some Democrats worry that a Speaker Pelosi would be a liability in 2008.
That fear could help Hoyer, who is serving his 13th term in Congress from suburban Maryland. His more moderate record could make him the centrists’ choice for speaker. He’s already drawn a challenge for the number-two job from John Murtha of Pennsylvania. Although conservative on many issues, Murtha favors prompt withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, as does Pelosi. Hoyer won’t go that far.
For decades, the GOP has painted Democrats as national-security wimps. Hoyer’s more moderate stance makes it harder for the GOP to portray the Democrats as too liberal. The knock on Hoyer among some Democrats is that he is too bland. But that may yet prove to be an asset.