House Democrats Moran, Edwards ponder what went wrong for their party

By Robert McCartney
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 23, 2010; 8:46 PM

The question now confronting congressional Democrats, especially the more liberal ones, is: What went wrong?

Two years after Democrats swept to a historic election triumph, polls and experts agree that Republicans will probably take back the House, or at least come close, and might win the Senate, too.

The national trend isn't having much impact in the Washington region, which is mostly safe for Democrats. But less than two weeks before they face the voters, I thought it would be interesting to ask a couple of local, liberal House members - Reps. Jim Moran (Va.) and Donna Edwards (Md.) - why national prospects for their side are so bleak.

Apart from their shared progressive ideology and the likelihood of being reelected in predominantly Democratic districts, the two could hardly be more different.

Moran - who represents Alexandria, Falls Church and parts of Arlington and Fairfax counties - calls to mind the late House Speaker Tip O'Neill. He is a thickly built, white-haired Irish American and a 20-year House veteran.

Edwards, who represents parts of Prince George's and Montgomery counties, is a younger version of District Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton. Edwards is a slim, stylish African American woman just finishing her first term in office.

Some of their answers, in separate interviews Thursday, struck me as right on target. They said Democrats did a lousy job of explaining to voters why bailouts, stimulus spending and other big government programs were necessary to fight the recession. They failed to convey the important, complementary message that they realized it would be necessary to cut spending later to reduce the deficit once the economy recovered. They didn't focus enough attention on the battle against long-term unemployment or highlight that most people's federal taxes have actually been lowered under President Obama.

"We have not been the best messengers," Edwards said. "That's a little bit of hindsight." She added that the nation needs to be "really thinking creatively about how to do job creation . . . how are we creating jobs over the next 20 years."

But some other explanations of the Democrats' woes, especially from Moran, seemed complacent and even counterproductive. Moran believes that Democrats are temporary victims of knee-jerk opposition to the "profound, watershed event" of electing an African American president. The GOP's current energy is fueled largely by fear and racism, he said, and by manipulation of grass-roots sentiment by a handful of ultra-rich families funding the tea party.

"Many people who will be elected in the House and Senate don't represent the majority," Moran said. The expected GOP surge will be short-lived, he predicted, because Obama's reelection campaign in 2012 will spur increased turnout among minorities, liberals and the young.

The Republicans' current intensity shows only that "the brightest stars are most often shooting stars which are on their way down," Moran said.

That kind of thinking is not going to help the Democrats or the nation. For one thing, passionate opposition to Obama is not automatically a sign of racism, and I've got an excellent example to prove it: Bill Clinton.

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