Cover Story

Houses divided

"Houses divided" Continued...

Issue: "Houses divided," June 3, 2006

Keenly aware of such possibilities, many Democrats are seeking to avoid or soften controversial positions that draw evangelicals to the polls. Some are even pushing toward an objective widely considered impossible over the last three decades: Democratic conversion. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) made a publicized appearance at last year's grand opening of Pastor Joel Osteen's megachurch building, the former basketball arena of the Houston Rockets. South Carolina Democrat James Clyburn visited the Dallas church of Pentecostal minister T.D. Jakes several months later.

Mr. Dean recently took such outreach efforts one step further, making a surprising appearance on Pat Robertson's 700 Club to announce that Democrats "have an enormous amount in common with the Christian community, and particularly with the evangelical Christian community." Mr. Dean went so far as to misrepresent his party's platform, saying it defines marriage as "between a man and a woman." In reality, the platform is conspicuously silent on marriage but lends support to equal rights for gay and lesbian families.

That statement provoked widespread hysteria among homosexual-rights activists, prompting many to question if Democrats are taking their liberal base for granted in pursuing new groups of voters. Columnist Chris Cain, executive editor of a prominent homosexual news source on the web, accused Mr. Dean of "betting that gay Americans are so disgusted with six years of Republican-controlled Washington that he can afford to anger a few activists while moving the party to the political center." Mr. Cain argues the strategy won't work, instead contributing to the Democrats' "worst image problem: that of a do-nothing party without clear positions, principles or a plan."

A tarnished Republican image may well produce a Democratic revolution this fall, but presidential campaigns typically require more principled clarity than negativity-just ask John Kerry. Hillary Clinton, the leading candidate for the Democratic Party's 2008 nomination, has worked tirelessly to recast herself as a moderate, reaching out to new voters in much the same manner as Mr. Dean. Such rebuilding of the party for greater mass appeal may pay off in the long run-provided the traditional Democratic base remains loyal. But ignoring the base is a dangerous game-just ask an increasingly wobbly GOP.

Primary battles

Key races this month may show how party-dividing issues will play in November

By Kristin Chapman

June 6

California: Pro-war Democratic congresswoman Jane Harman will face off against anti-war challenger Marcy Winograd.

Maine: Pro-abortion Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe, who has served as a congresswoman and senator for nearly 28 years, faces a protest challenge from religious rights activist and write-in candidate Edward Libby.

June 13

New Jersey: Republican Senate-hopeful Thomas Kean Jr., an embryonic stem-cell research supporter, squares off with conservative John Ginty, who opposes embryonic stem-cell research but supports adult stem-cell research. The primary winner will likely face Democratic incumbent Sen. Robert Menendez.

Virginia: Differences in opinion on illegal immigration are fueling the primary race between Democratic congressional candidates Andrew Hurst and Kenneth Longmyer.

June 27

Utah: Illegal immigration is at the core of the race between 10-year veteran Republican congressman Chris Cannon and political novice John Jacob.


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