(CNSNews.com) - The likely ascendancy of San Francisco liberal Rep. Nancy Pelosi to the post of House minority leader has sparked questions about whether she will lead the Democratic Party too far left, jeopardizing its chances of taking back the House in 2004.
In the wake of a disappointing 2002 mid-term for Democrats, Pelosi herself has stressed the importance of 2004, the year of both the next presidential and House elections.
"Tomorrow is the first day of the election of 2004," Pelosi declared on Election Day. "We can't take any chance that the message is muddied. There will be just far too much at stake."
Already, Pelosi has vowed to "highlight those differences" between Democrats and "the extreme policies put forward by the Republicans." She's voted with liberals on a host of issues, from partial birth abortion to school vouchers to gun control. Most recently, she's opposed the president on homeland-security issues and opposed giving him authority to attack Iraq.
To boot, Pelosi is a member of the House "Progressive Caucus," which has been described as a "front" for the advancement of Socialist principles. Vermont Socialist Bernie Sanders, who was elected to the House as an Independent, is a member. The late Sen. Paul Wellstone from Minnesota was also a member.
A CNSNews.com story in July 2000 quoted Michael Warder, vice-president for development at the Claremont Institute in California, a critic of the Progressive Caucus.
"It looks like a front to a very left wing socialist agenda," Warder said at the time. "It seems like it's (comprised) of some characters who ... are attempting to give Socialism a good name."
That's just the sort of rhetoric that members of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council want to avoid.
The DLC warns that the "very intelligent and articulate Californian" will need to "learn from members in marginal seats, and not let the [Democratic] caucus impose left-of-center views on them that will further polarize the country and narrow the party's appeal."
"As a San Francisco Democrat, she needs to go out of her way from the outset to show she understands the party needs to lead from the vital center, not retreat to the fringe," the DLC urged in a written statement Tuesday.
The DLC went on to praise the arguably more moderate Rep. Harold Ford (D-Tenn.) for his uphill campaign for minority leader, stating that it's Ford who understands the need to reach for middle ground because of the tendency of voters in his home state of Tennessee to swing back and forth between parties.
Ford and Pelosi represent solidly Democratic districts and were re-elected by large margins. But, the DLC cautions that "Democrats can't win by merely rallying the faithful -- they need to earn the support of independent swing voters as well."
Other Democrats have been more critical when thinking ahead to 2004.
Rep. Cal Dooley (D-Calif.) all but called the Democratic Party too liberal for mainstream politics. "If you look at all the close races we lost [in 2002], not one Democratic candidate lost because he was perceived as too conservative by the electorate," Dooley told the Associated Press.
"In every instance," he said, "They lost because they were perceived as too liberal."
And Pelosi's erstwhile challenger for minority leader, Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas), on Nov. 7 similarly suggested that Pelosi's liberal politics would not be an asset for the party in 2004.
"I think that her politics are to the left, and I think that the party, to be successful, must speak to the broad center of the country," Frost told reporters during his short-lived campaign for the top spot.
"The battleground seats in this country are in swing, marginal, moderate and conservative areas," he said. "If it's a question of being pure all the time, just standing by certain fundamental beliefs and never compromising, we will be in a minority party for the foreseeable future, and we will have less Democrats than we do today."
Many analysts expect Pelosi to continue to be an asset to her party when it comes to fundraising, even if Democrats continue to lag behind Republicans (President Bush, especially) in that arena.
It's also possible that non-Pelosi factors may determine the outcome of 2004 races.
"I suspect any future wins the Democrats enjoy will be more a function of a sluggish economy or difficulties in the war against terrorism than anything Pelosi can do," said Brookings Institution political analyst Thomas Mann.
Cato Institute analyst John Samples also won't put it past Republicans to flub any current advantage.
"They certainly have in the past. They've shown an ability to lose elections," said Samples. "Their biggest worry still has to be that the economy will be ... weak. There's also the looming war with Iraq. As the president's father found out, even a big victory doesn't assure re-election."
E-mail a news tip to Christine Hall.
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