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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Lawmakers to Lead From Center

WASHINGTON -- The newly elected Democratic class of 2006, which is set to descend on the Capitol next week, will hardly be the first freshmen to arrive in Washington promising to make a difference.

The last time Congress changed hands, the Republican freshman class of 1994 roared into town under the leadership of Newt Gingrich as speaker of the House of Representatives and quickly advanced a conservative agenda of exceptional ambition.

Many in the class of 2006, especially those who delivered the new Democratic majorities by winning Republican seats, show little appetite for that kind of ideological crusade. But in interviews with nearly half of them this week, the freshmen -- 41 in the House and 9 in the Senate, including one independent -- conveyed a keen sense of their own moment in history, and a distinct world view: they say they were given a rare opportunity by voters, many of them independents and Republicans, who were tired of the partisanship and gridlock in Washington.

Now, they say, they have to produce -- to deal with long-festering problems like access to affordable health care and the loss of manufacturing jobs, and to find a bipartisan consensus for an exit strategy in Iraq, a source of continuing division not only between but also within the parties.

Many of them say they must also, somehow, find a way to address the growing anxiety among voters about a global economy that no longer seems to work for them. There is a strong populist tinge to this class.

In general, they set themselves an extraordinary (political veterans might say impossible) task: to avoid the ideological wars that have so dominated Congress in recent years, to be pragmatists, and to change the tone in Washington after a sharply partisan campaign.

"I see myself, hopefully, as a bridge builder, a consensus person," said Harry Mitchell, 66, a longtime state senator and former mayor of Tempe, Arizona, who defeated Representative J. D. Hayworth, an emblematic member of the class of 1994.

"I can't be a rabid partisan Democrat and represent this district," Mitchell said.

Nancy Boyda, who defeated Representative Jim Ryun, the legendary track star, in a district in Kansas that U.S. President George W. Bush carried by 20 percentage points in 2004, summarized her mandate this way: "Stop the gridlock, stop the nastiness, get something done. People are tired of excuses."

Claire McCaskill, who defeated Senator Jim Talent of Missouri in a fiercely competitive race, said: "I'm not from a blue echo chamber. I'm from a state that's really like America -- it's divided."

"The problem with Washington," McCaskill added, "is you have so many senators who are from bright blue and bright red states; they're not interested in common ground. They're interested in making each other look bad."