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Democrats may muff chance at resurgence

Using ordinary measurements, the Democratic Party in this fall's elections will return to the majority in the House of Representatives for the first time since 1994.

The heavens are twinkling with good omens for Democrats. President Bush is mired in foul approval ratings of almost Nixonian grade.

Generic polls on the House elections are far more favorable to Democrats than they have been in a decade. These don't measure preferences in each congressional district, but survey voters on their preferences nationally.

It's an unreliable predictor when the preference is a few percentage points, as in March 2002 when the Democrats and Republicans were tied, and in March 2004, when the preference for Democrats was seven points. In the fall, the GOP retained comfortable majorities each time.

This time, though, all major generic polls on which party should run Congress give Democrats a lead of 14 to 16 percentage points.

When voters are asked if they like their incumbent, they ordinarily prefer the devil they know.

Nationally, voters are troubled about the Republicans who have been running the House -- seen as greedy politicians who will hop on any corporate plane to huddle with lobbyists at posh resorts.

House Republican leaders are quarreling over ethics and lobbying reform even though one of their own is going to jail for taking seven-figure bribes, and at least two other top Republicans face serious criminal charges.

The "limit spending" House GOP just raised the national debt for the fourth time, while it plans to extend tax cuts for the richest Americans, and has no plans to stop financing military adventures by borrowing money from China and the Arabs.

Bush's war of choice, widely viewed as founded on bad information if not outright lies, is devolving into the massive strategic mistake his father avoided.

All this would be a ready-made formula for a Democratic House resurgence, a recipe for keeping movement Republicans at home from the polls in November.

That is, unless the Democrats blunder by needlessly stimulating the GOP base.

Which is what they are doing with one goofy move after another:

Sen. Russ Feingold's resolution to censure Bush. The Wisconsin Democrat is singling out the president for doing something that most Americans feel is an unpleasant necessity, tapping the phones of Americans talking with potential terrorists overseas. That could backfire, energizing Bush's base in November.

A protest by Reps. Barney Frank, D-Mass., Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and others falsely accusing the Bush administration of discrimination against homosexuals in security clearances.

A decision by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to call for a party line vote on the Dubai ports deal well after the Democrats had squeezed every ounce of benefit from the fracas.

A letter signed by 55 Catholic House Democrats that tries to reshape 2,000 years of church teachings on abortion was the dumbest of all.

Pushed by Pelosi and drafted by Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, D-Conn., it warned against the faith being defined solely by a "one-issue, very narrow right-wing agenda [meaning the Church's outright opposition to abortion.]"

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington and two other church leaders quickly denounced the Pelosi-DeLauro statement. There is no wiggle room on abortion, they said. Politicians are "duty-bound to . . . work against the destruction of unborn human life."

This from McCarrick who caught flak from conservatives for ameliorating problems in 2004 between pro-choice Democrats and the Church.

Did the Democrats need this now? No. Can these knee-jerk moves cost them the election? Yes.

e-mail: dturner@buffnews.com

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