Democrats Keep Distance From Each Other

With ethics allegations raging in Washington, how bad is it for Democrats?

ByDavid Kerley and Christina Capatides
August 01, 2010, 7:25 PM

WASHINGTON, Aug. 1, 2010 — -- With midterm elections looming on the horizon, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi skirted questions on ABC's "This Week" about the ethics charges pending against two Democratic members of the House, illuminating the fact that, for most Democrats these days, the prevailing tactic seems to be "every man for himself."

"I'm totally out of the loop," Pelosi told ABC's Christiane Amanpour. "It is independent. It is confidential, classified, secret, whatever. We don't know what it is."

And just as this leader of the Democratic Party has chosen to distance herself from the alleged wrongdoings of her colleagues, so have numerous democratic congressional hopefuls chosen to distance themselves from the current unpopularity of their Party's leadership.

Take Georgia's most prominent Democrat, former Gov. Roy Barnes, for example. When President Obama travels to Atlanta on Monday to headline a Democratic National Committee fundraiser and address the Disabled American Veterans convention, Barnes plans to be campaigning for voters' favor in Southern Georgia, more than 100 miles away.

While Barnes' campaign manager, Chris Carpenter, claims that the aforementioned campaign trip was scheduled long before he received word of the president's visit, many believe this distant commitment is less unfortunate coincidence than strategic decision.

In July, a poll conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. showed that Obama has a meager 37 percent approval rating in the state of Georgia. The president's popularity with Independents, in particular, has also decreased significantly since his election in 2008.

There is little doubt that Barnes is aware of this and, like other Democratic Congressional hopefuls, deliberately distancing himself from the White House because his success hinges upon those very Independent voters.

"Our members are the best salespersons for their own districts," Pelosi said. "They've been elected there. They know the constituents."

With voters already apprehensive about the economy, the recent ethics allegations against New York's Charlie Rangel and California's Maxine Waters may render it even more difficult for Democrats to maintain power of the House. And the fact that two Democrats are headed to rare trials in the full House may grant Republicans just the ammunition they need to regain some of the 65 House seats across the country that are at risk of changing political hands this November.

"I think historically one of the best ways to win control of Congress is to say the other guys are corrupt," said Jonathan Allen, congressional correspondent for Politico.

There is little doubt that, going forward, the Republicans will attempt to do just that. And the Democrats? Well, their hopes for keeping control of the House may be threefold: money, distance, promises.

First, they certainly have the monetary advantage, as far as campaigning is concerned.

"We have a two-to-one advantage money-wise," Speaker Pelosi acknowledged on ABC's "This Week." "So, we feel very confident about where we are."

Second, the Democrats are aware that, for now at least, distance from each other may be essential to ensure the preservation of their congressional majority. In a move reminiscent of President Bush and the Republicans during the last presidential campaign, President Obama has assured Democratic members of Congress that he will do anything he can to help them survive their fall elections, even if that means staying away.

Lastly, despite the fierce charges from Republican spokesmen such as Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner that Speaker Pelosi has not kept her 2007 promise to "drain the swamp that is Washington, D.C.," the current action by the Ethics Committee -- however harmful to the Party's prospects -- may ironically be the greatest proof that she has.

"If you're finding all this stuff, that means that they're taking a microscope to it," Allen said. "But the bad news for them, of course, is it's their members who are under the gun and heading into an election again."

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