For 2006, Democrats try 'back to basics'

Democrats think they may have gained some temporary advantage from this week's cease-fire in the battle over filibusters of judicial nominations.

But when it comes to trying to regain control of the Senate in 2006, Democrats plan to rely on a back-to-basics strategy, avoiding internal squabbles and ideological litmus tests and stressing instead the economic issues that are often paramount to voters.

That's the plan outlined at a Monitor breakfast with reporters by New York Senator Charles Schumer, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

At the moment, the DSCC's goal of regaining control of the Senate looks like an uphill battle. In a moment of surprising candor, Senate minority leader Harry Reid stood on the Senate floor in late April and said, "I think it would take a miracle" for Democrats to pick up 5 senate seats in 2006. "I guess miracles never cease," he added. The current makeup of the Senate is 55 Republicans, 44 Democrats, and 1 Independent.

Schumer thinks the battle over judicial nominations will linger in voters' minds and help Democrats in the 2006 elections. "The whiff of extremism, the whiff of abuse of power, the whiff of being out of touch with what people want is in the air. I think this fight where the moderates had to rescue the Senate and the agenda from the Republican leadership and these extreme groups helps us."

But the basic thrust for Democrats in the run-up to 2006 will not be on judicial nominations, Schumer said. "We are not going to be off on some ideological escapade - rather meat and potatoes: healthcare, education, jobs."

Schumer argues that getting the Republicans to take the so-called "nuclear option" off the table was worth the price for Democrats of clearing the way for some of President Bush's judicial nominations - a compromise worked out by Senate moderates this week. The nuclear option is the idea that Republicans would change Senate rules so that a filibuster could be stopped by a simple majority vote.

Some liberal interest groups complain that too much was surrendered in the deal.

Schumer's response: "This is all compromise. You are saying, 'why couldn't you give up nothing to get the nuclear option off the table?' That would be what we would like. That is not Washington, that is not politics, and we are not in the majority."

One short-term political effect of the compromise on judicial nominations is that John Bolton, President Bush's nominee to be US ambassador to the United Nations will have an easier path to confirmation. "My guess is that had the nuclear option been invoked ... the inclination to maybe filibuster Bolton would have been greater," Schumer said.

Schumer in spotlight

• Chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which raises money to help Democrats regain control of the Senate.

• Vocal proponent of the idea that Democrats should reject President Bush's judicial nominations based on their ideology rather than just concerns about judicial temperament.

• Elected to the US House in 1980 at age 29. Member of the Senate since 1998, re-elected in 2004 with 71 percent of the vote, a New York record.

• Graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School.

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