Michael Barone

It is time to take seriously the possibility that the Democrats will take control of the House of Representatives in the elections next month. The breaking of the Mark Foley scandal on the last day of the congressional session -- who held onto the incriminating instant messages until this strategic delivery date? -- put the Republican leadership on the defensive and changed the political landscape.

Speaker Dennis Hastert was right just to warn Foley off communicating with former pages when informed in 2005 of the "over friendly" e-mails that the St. Petersburg Times and Miami Herald independently concluded were so innocuous as to be unworthy of publication. But he erred in not bringing the Democratic member of the committee on pages into the process.

The House Ethics Committee, which seems to be taking a bipartisan approach, will draw its own conclusions. In any case, polls taken since Foley's resignation suggest Republicans have taken a hit. And the traders at intrade.com, which publishes the odds on political contests, switched from putting their money on Republicans holding the House to Republicans losing control.

It seems unlikely that Democrats will win more seats than Republicans now have, which means that a Speaker Nancy Pelosi will face the tough challenge of holding enough of her caucus together to produce the 218 votes needed for a majority on seriously contested legislation. She and other Democrats have not had much practice at this, but neither did Republicans back in 1994.

Pelosi's task will be complicated by bad blood among the leadership (as Gingrich's was); she is on bad terms with the current minority whip, Steny Hoyer, and she seems to have encouraged her ally John Murtha to declare he'd challenge Hoyer for the majority leadership. Also, there are more moderates in the Democratic Caucus (and likely to be more if they win the 15 seats they need for control) than in Republican ranks today.

Consider the fact that 34 House Democrats, most from districts carried by Bush in 2004, voted for the terrorist interrogation bill supported by George W. Bush and John McCain. That means a narrowly Democratic House is unlikely to act on presumptive Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel's suggestion that it defund the military campaign in Iraq, as a 2-to-1 Democratic House voted to refuse funds for bailing out South Vietnam in 1975.

Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM