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Democrats Aim to End Streak

To diehards, baseball is all about statistics — a pastime in which success is determined one pitch at a time, inning by inning, week by week and year by year.

But not when it’s played by lawmakers, say veterans of Roll Call’s Annual Congressional Baseball Game. They claim that Congressional baseball is all about geography, youth and who’s in charge — variables that all favor Democrats this year. And if they’re right, the majority party may be poised to lift the coveted Roll Call trophy tonight for the first time since 2000, President Bill Clinton’s last year in office.

“Democratic gains in the last elections in the West, the Sun Belt and the Far West — the better weather states — that will favor them over Republicans,— says New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D), former semi-pro pitcher and Congressional game Hall of Famer. “I see Democrats this year and in the years ahead getting stronger.—

When thumbing through last year’s lineups, it’s easy to see Richardson’s point. Democrats have replaced Republicans in 51 House districts alone since the 2006 elections, many in sunny locales like Florida, Colorado, North Carolina and Arizona. Going back a decade or more, uniforms bearing the names of stalwart GOP players such as Jim Bunning (Ky.), Steve Largent (Okla.), Virgil Goode (Va.), Steve Pearce (N.M.), Chip Pickering (Miss.), Kenny Hulshof (Mo.) and Tom Davis (Va.) graced the field. But no longer.

“The big Republican stars of the past — thank God — are gone,— Richardson says. “The Democrats now will win because there’s more of them and they’re younger.—

Rep. Joe Barton (Texas), the Republican coach, conceded Richardon’s point, setting the bar low for a thin lineup that includes two bright spots: freshman Reps. Duncan Hunter (Calif.) and Tom Rooney (Fla.).

After the first 2009 practice, the veteran GOP skipper said that he may have difficulty even fielding a team, joking that it may be better just to stay home.

“I really do think that if we just forfeit the game, it’s only one to nothing in the record book,— he told Roll Call. “We’ll just have to keep trying, and if we can find nine guys that don’t embarrass us, we may show up for the game.—

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.), who last played for the Republican side in 2006, wagered that “60 percent of it is just having a younger pool of talent.— Like Richardson, Santorum says the rest is all about geography.

[IMGCAP(1)]“They have been able to pick up some younger guys,— Santorum says. “And you hate to stereotype, but if you’re winning in Western districts or Southern districts, you’re probably going to be less Ivy League and probably a little more used to outdoor activities.—

And “majorities help,— Santorum adds, harkening back to the strong GOP squads during the past eight years, when the GOP wielded committee gavels more times than not. “When your ranks are thinner, the talent pool gets a little smaller,— he says. “I look at some of the guys we’ve lost in the past couple of elections — a lot of good players.—

Making matters worse, this year — or next, at the latest — could also be the last for Republican Reps. Gresham Barrett (S.C.), Zach Wamp (Tenn.) and Adam Putnam (Fla.), who are all running for statewide office in 2010.

“Those were the young Republican stars that were jocks and politicians ,— Richardson says. “That will hurt them but its good for us.—

“Zach 10 years ago was a star,— he continued. “He’s a major star for the Republicans and he’ll be very hard to replace.—

Richardson also warned that there are many Democrats on the roster who struggled through the lean times and may not be so willing to step aside in favor of the new blood.

“Sometimes the older guys won’t give up their positions in seniority [and] they’re powerful members,— he says. There is no more competitive group of athletes than a bunch of heavy-ego Members of Congress playing against each other.—

“I’m sure that’s still the case,— he added.