The Times' message to G.O.P. moderates: Come on in! The water's fine! That's the tone of a front-page story on Saturday by Raymond Hernandez, which celebrated the newfound freedom of those GOP "centrists" that have recently escaped from the clutches of those impractical conservative Republicans who once held the House in their grasp ("Democrats' Rise has Pluses, Says G.O.P. Centrists").
"If the Democratic ascendance on Capitol Hill was supposed to usher in dark days for Republicans, it is hard to tell from talking to moderate ones like Mike Ferguson, who represents a suburban district in central New Jersey.
"As the new Democrat-led House rushed to complete its business before adjourning for spring break this week, Representative Ferguson was marveling at the many bills that had been passed in Congress's first 100 days, including one that would make it easier for unions to organize and another that would increase the minimum wage.
"Mr. Ferguson's enthusiasm captures a peculiar political reality in the Capitol: many Republicans from swing districts in the Northeast are finding that life under Democratic rule has its advantages.
"During the 12 years that Republicans controlled the House, moderate Republicans were the stepchildren of their party, expected to vote with their conservative leadership on crucial issues, even if it meant taking positions that could anger centrist voters back home.
"In fact, the Democrats made some of their deepest inroads last year in the Northeast. A total of 10 Republican incumbents in the House were defeated in four states - New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania - where the challengers aggressively tried to tie the incumbents to President Bush and his conservative allies on the Hill.
"Now, with those losses still fresh in their minds, Republican moderates remaining in the House are vowing to pursue their centrist positions more assertively, even if it means endorsing Democratic initiatives.
"And the new Republican House leadership, concerned about losing even more seats in 2008, appears to be showing a pragmatic streak by allowing moderates to stray more freely from the party fold.
"'If there's a good idea, we should work to get it done, regardless of whether it's a Republican or a Democrat who came up with the idea,' said Mr. Ferguson, who was re-elected last year with just 49.5 percent of the vote.
Predictably, those "centrists" are tallying liberal votes, though Hernandez doesn't characterize them that way: "Since taking control of the House in January, Democrats have pushed through bills that would raise the federal minimum wage, overturn President Bush's restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, cut interest rates on college loans and implement Sept. 11 commission security recommendations."