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Democrats Are United in Plans To Block Top Bush Initiatives

Just as significant have been polls showing that Bush gained little ground in public opinion with his victory. "What's been clear and somewhat surprising in the weeks after the election is that Bush got virtually no bounce and no honeymoon from his victory," said Democratic pollster Geoffrey Garin. "What seems pretty clear is that there was nothing particularly healing about Bush's victory."

That has emboldened Democrats to resist, and they see attractive targets on the horizon. "If you look at the major priorities that Bush has outlined for a second term, they all create significant opportunities for Democrats," said Mark Mellman, who was Kerry's campaign pollster.

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Bush's Social Security proposal that would allow younger workers to invest some of their contributions in personal savings accounts has further served to unite Democrats across the ideological spectrum -- from the liberal Campaign for America's Future to two centrist groups, the Democratic Leadership Council and the newly formed Third Way.

"I don't think Democrats are frightened of him," said DLC President Bruce Reed. "They're frightened of what he wants to do but not frightened of what he can do to them, the way many were on tax cuts."

"It looks like Democrats are going to stay firm and stay united," said Roger Hickey, one of the leaders of the Campaign for America's Future. "Bush is asking Republicans to bite a harder bullet than he did four years ago."

Grass-roots Democrats feed the appetite to battle Bush, giving Democratic leaders in Washington more incentive to challenge the president. "I've been struck how funders and groups like MoveOn are very engaged and are not letting up at all," said Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg.

Four years ago, he said, Democrats pulled back, but this time there is pressure from the grass roots to continue the fight. "Democrats took a licking [in November], but see themselves back in the battle," Greenberg said. "I don't think outside forces will allow Democrats [in Washington] to disengage."

For all their talk of challenging Bush, Senate Democrats are unlikely to mount serious opposition to the president's nominee for attorney general, White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales, in spite of his role in shaping legal policies on torture and interrogation methods. Gonzales is expected to win confirmation without difficulty, both sides predict, and some Democrats said they believe it is a mistake to let him sail through so easily.

Nor are Democrats well organized yet to challenge Bush effectively. House Democrats represent an ineffective force in a body tightly controlled by the GOP majority. Senate Democrats are adjusting to new leadership, with the office of Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) likely to become the focal point for coordinating Democratic strategy. The Democratic National Committee must pick a new leader to replace outgoing chairman Terrence R. McAuliffe before the national party can provide real help.

Already there is grumbling among strategists that the party is falling behind the White House and congressional Republicans in developing a strategy. In the end, they acknowledge, Democrats may have more desire than capacity to defeat Bush's agenda, but as Bush's second term begins, the battle lines in Washington are being clearly drawn.

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