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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne, with Lynn Neary.
And here in the U.S., with voters in a decidedly anti-establishment mood, House Democrats have a lot to worry about. They're facing dozens of challenges all over the country, especially in moderate districts and swing states. And some of the most vulnerable Democrats are the ones that gave speaker Nancy Pelosi her majority in the first place.
NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports.
ANDREA SEABROOK: In January of 2007, the triumphant new speaker of the House gazed into a crowd of fresh faces.
(Soundbite of applause)
Represent NANCY PELOSI (D-CA, House Speaker): Looking around this room, it is clear that Democrats are back.
(Soundbite of cheering and applause)
SEABROOK: Pelosi called them the Majority Makers, a new crop of Democrats from moderate to conservative districts all over the country. They pushed her party over the top in the House. Two years later, a vibrant presidential candidate and a strong message of change helped to boost House Democrats' ranks, and their triumph seemed solid.
But now, well, listen to how these Democratic freshmen and sophomores are being painted in these political ads.
(Soundbite of political ads)
Unidentified Man #1: Just how fast is Congressman Zack Space spending your money?
Unidentified Man #2: Democrats like Betsy Markey voted for a corrupt bill.
Unidentified Woman: Is Gabrielle Giffords' political career on life support?
Unidentified Man #3: Bobby Bright. He's supporting Obamacare now. He's just hoping we won't notice.
SEABROOK: Republicans would like to make those Majority Makers the Majority Takers, precisely because they represent swing districts.
Representative PETE SESSIONS (R-TX, Chairman, Republican Congressional Campaign Committee): I think the voter, across America, has learned a whole lot more about the changes that President Obama and Nancy Pelosi had in mind for the country.
SEABROOK: Texas Republican Pete Sessions, who's in charge of getting those seats back for his party. He says Democratic leaders pushed the moderates too far when they brought cap and trade energy legislation and the health care bill to the floor. And, says Sessions, voters have now watched the economy bottom out and the deficits explode.
Rep. SESSIONS: And it is causing, all across this country, in Republican and Democrat primaries, a debate about the role of government, about the significance of our debt problem, and the unemployment that has not turned around.
SEABROOK: Sessions says, come November, moderate voters will turn back to the Republicans. To which those centrist Democrats say: not so fast.
Representative JOHN BOCCIERI (Democrat, Ohio): I just think that leadership is about action, not position.
SEABROOK: Ohio freshman Democrat John Boccieri.
Rep. BOCCIERI: And we campaigned for office understanding that we've got to make, not only promises when we campaign, but when you govern it's about choices.
SEABROOK: Sure, Boccieri says, there were hard votes - on health care, the economic stimulus and on Wall Street regulations. But he's telling voters all those things would have gotten worse if Republicans had been in charge.
Another freshman, Democrat Tom Perriello of Virginia, agrees.
Representative TOM PERRIELLO (Democrat, Virginia): Part of this new generation of politics is about not looking at politics as a career, but a place to solve problems.
SEABROOK: The Republicans are making a miscalculation, says Perriello, if they think they can convince voters that these moderates are just party-line Democrats. He says that's not why he got in to this job.
Rep. PERRIELLO: I thought neither party had the guts to take on the big issues of our day; things like energy independence, and health care reform and deficit reduction. And that's what I'm here to do. And I'm going to keep swinging to the fences on solving America's problems with bold but pragmatic solutions. And I think that's what people back home are looking for.
SEABROOK: And this week, Democrats saw a glimmer of hope that their focus might be working, says the man in charge of safeguarding their majority, Maryland's Chris Van Hollen.
Representative CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD, Chairman, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee): The one race in the country on Tuesday, where you had a matchup with a Democrat and a Republican was the Pennsylvania 12 special election.
SEABROOK: That's the longtime Democratically-held seat that the GOP hoped to take as a trophy.
Rep. VAN HOLLEN: And the Republican strategy of trying to scare people by saying, ooh, Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama and send them a message - it fell flat.
SEABROOK: The Democrat, Mark Critz, won the seat - at least for the rest of this term. In November, there will be a rematch and a much bigger test of moderate Democrats' staying power.
Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.
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