WASHINGTON—Congressional black leaders expressed confidence Tuesday that Democrats will win control of the House, partly because of a large turnout by angry African-American voters who feel abandoned by the Bush administration.
Leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus held a news briefing as 20,000 black mayors, county commissioners, city council members, entrepreneurs and other influential African Americans began arriving in Washington for the political group's annual convention.
Rep. Mel Watt, a North Carolina Democrat and the caucus chairman, said he told President Bush during a personal meeting early last year that the organization would judge him based on his actions and policies on issues of importance to minorities.
"Unfortunately, the poverty gap has widened, education has gotten worse, health care has gotten worse, economic opportunities are not there," Watt told reporters. "This president has not done well on our agenda, and this Congress has not done well on these issues that are important to us."
With Bush's approval rating hovering around 40 percent and the economy making small or sluggish gains in much of the country, some political analysts are predicting that Democratic candidates will gain the 15 House seats needed for the party to regain majority control.
Rep. Jim Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat and former chairman of the 43-member caucus, repressed a mischievous grin as he told reporters that he is not as optimistic as some experts who say his party has a 75 percent to 90 percent chance of winning the House.
"I think we've got better than a 50 percent chance of retaking the House," Clyburn said. "There are still 60 days left (before the Nov. 7 elections). That's a lifetime in politics. But if we do all that we say we're going to do in order to ensure turnout, I feel confident we're going to win."
Clyburn said the Democrats' chances of gaining the six seats necessary to take control of the Senate are "less than 50 percent."
At the fall election campaigns' traditional post-Labor Day kickoff, Watt said a strong turnout by African Americans and other minority voters could be decisive. "Obviously, there will be a direct relationship between our taking back the House and minority voting patterns," he said.
All 43 members of the Congressional Black Caucus are Democrats. Watt, Clyburn and other members of the group tried to walk a line between optimism and overconfidence about the elections.
"We're not counting our chickens before they're hatched," Watt said.
Reps. Charles Rangel of New York and John Conyers of Michigan, the only original members of the caucus from its 1969 establishment who are still serving in Congress, could become chairmen of key House committees if Democrats take control. Republican political operatives are emphasizing that possibility, warning voters that a Democratic win would give power to liberal lawmakers.
Noting that only four members of the Congressional Black Caucus voted to give Bush authority to invade Iraq, Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, said subsequent events have vindicated those who opposed the war.
While war opponents were accused of being unpatriotic, Cummings added, some lawmakers are now apologizing for having supported the war.
"We predicted the cost would be extremely high—not only in the lives of our soldiers, but for the Iraqi people, and the cost in dollars, which is $350 billion and still counting," Cummings said.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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