The freshman Class of 2008 converged on Capitol Hill for
orientation this week not just to learn the ways of Washington but
also to try to change them.
Their ranks include lawyers, governors, mayors, and former
congressional staff, as well as physicians, real estate developers,
investment bankers, Internet entrepreneurs, teachers, community
organizers, a cosmetics saleswoman, and a former prison guard.
What many have in common is a pledge to voters to renounce bitter
partisanship and break the gridlock on Capitol Hill - pledges that,
if honored, pose management issues for leadership on both sides of
For example, incoming Rep. Bobby Bright (D) of Alabama, the
outgoing mayor of Montgomery, opposes abortion rights and gun
control and supports drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife
If elected, he said he would "put party politics in the back
seat." He is backed by the fiscally conservative Blue Dog
coalition.On the Republican side, Jason Chaffetz of Utah - one of
only four Republicans to defeat a House Democrat in this campaign
cycle - wants to wean his party off big-government conservatism,
including rolling back President Bush's signature No Child Left
With congressional approval ratings stuck in single digits, it's
no surprise that newcomers on both sides of the aisle campaigned
against Congress and its ways.
But the larger political calculus is driven by the fact that most
congressional seats are no longer competitive, thanks to decades of
high-tech, partisan redistricting and gerrymandering.
Moreover, the battles for the remaining competitive seats are
fought out - often fiercely and at great expense - in the center.For
the first time since Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal era,
Democrats gained seats in back-to-back elections: that's 57 pickups
in two election cycles.
With a handful of recounts pending, the head count for new
members stands at 30 Democrats and 19 Republicans in the House, and
six Democrats and two Republicans in the Senate. Three Senate seats
and five House seats are not yet determined.
For Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the influx of more conservative
Democrats has meant finding ways to accommodate views more
conservative than the caucus. In the 110th Congress, she called
these moderate or conservative Democrats her "majority makers."
She also adopted the Blue Dog calls for rules in the House
requiring that offsets be found for tax cuts or new spending.
"We made it a point early on to recruit candidates who best
reflected their district's values and priorities and who could win a
general election," says Doug Thornell, a spokesman for the
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the campaign arm of the
"The path to victory in each district is different, and we
recognized and respected that. That flexibility allowed us to expand
the number of seats in play to a historic level and ultimately win
at least 24 seats this cycle," he added. …