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Election Doesn’t Faze Moderates

House and Senate Democratic moderates insisted Wednesday that Republican victories in Tuesday’s off-year election would not influence their votes on health care reform.

That’s because many Democratic centrists — particularly those representing conservative states and districts — were already nervous about how their health care vote might be received at home. And most were unwilling to give Republicans too much credit for the gubernatorial victories in Virginia and New Jersey, particularly because Democrats simultaneously secured a high-profile House seat in upstate New York.

“We’re all going to make our decision about what to do [on health care] based on how the measure, as it comes to the floor, would affect the delivery of health care and the availability of it in our districts,” said Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) a moderate whose 9th district went for Gov.-elect Bob McDonnell (R) by 34 points. “These are state-specific numbers. There is very little, if any, national message that stems from this.”

Freshman Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), whose district McDonnell carried by more than 10 points, said the message he drew from the election is that Democrats have to deliver on their agenda to re-energize their base.

“I concluded last night that we’ve got to pass health care on the merits but also for those reasons,” he said. Connolly, the president of the House Democrats’ freshman class, said he made that case during their weekly Wednesday breakfast with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

The House is poised to vote on its health care overhaul on Saturday, while the Senate could still be weeks away from taking up its package. But in both chambers, moderates will be key to the bills’ passage.

One Democratic strategist who follows the Senate said his party’s leaders would be foolish to ignore what happened on Tuesday when bringing up health care reform. This strategist said his party could suffer in 2010 if it does not heed the warning signs of the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial contests, where incumbents were cast aside in favor of Republican challengers.

“If we continue down the path we are then it is obvious our Democratic leadership has a tin ear,” this operative said. “It amazes me — it’s like no remembers 1994. If people want to follow these liberal leaders off the cliff that is their prerogative, but any consultant advocating that is committing political malpractice.”

How moderates will end up voting on a health care bill remains to be seen. And in the immediate aftermath of Tuesday’s voting, Democratic Members seemed more apt to blame the candidates themselves, rather than the party or its agenda, for GOP gains.

Several moderate Members attributed the victories to lackluster Democratic campaigns and low voter turnout rather than a rejection of the party’s national agenda. And they noted that Democrat Bill Owens, who defeated Conservative Party hopeful Doug Hoffman in New York’s 23rd district, ran in part on the Democrats’ health care agenda.

Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.), a leading member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, chalked up Owens’ win to “a total collapse of the Republican agenda and the Republican party’s discipline” after conservative activists forced the official GOP nominee from the field.

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