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If it walks, talks like a conservative, can it be a Dem?

From John King
CNN
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(CNN) -- Brad Ellsworth opposes abortion and same-sex marriage and is an Indiana sheriff who very much believes in the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

And he's coming to Congress as a Democrat.

"We're a pretty conservative bunch, and I think that I fit right in with those values of the people here," said Rep.-elect Ellsworth.

President Bush isn't the only conservative that Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California will have to deal with when she becomes House speaker in January. (Watch Pelosi explain how voters cast ballots for change -- 2:34 Video)

Ellsworth is one of a crop of conservative and moderate Democrats who helped the party seize Congress in what has been viewed as a referendum on Bush, the Iraq war and corruption.

Democrats rode an anti-GOP, anti-incumbent wave right to the helm of Congress, and as ex-Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas noted, voters may have cast ballots against Republicans rather than for Democrats.

"The Democrats didn't win; the Republicans lost," said the former House majority leader. DeLay stepped down earlier this year after being indicted on state money-laundering charges. He has denied wrongdoing.

The new Democrats, say analysts, are likely to force the party to shift more toward center, or else butt heads with more liberal congressional leaders.

Among those in January's incoming freshman class are Ellsworth and Joe Donnelly from Indiana, Tim Mahoney of Florida, Ed Perlmutter of Colorado, John Yarmuth of Kentucky and Heath Shuler of North Carolina.

The House newbies are joined by a like-minded class in the Senate, including abortion opponent Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and guns rights advocate Jon Tester of Montana.

At least one of the freshmen says Democrats should rise above any political differences.

"Now is a time to come together. It really is the time to put politics aside," Tester said during his acceptance speech.

But Shuler, a devout Christian who abstains from alcohol and caffeine, was quick to distance himself from liberals when the GOP tried to peg him to Pelosi during the campaign.

"That's why we have to do a good job, being in the district like this, where we can talk and spread the word and say, 'You know, he's not like some of the national Democrats. You know, he's one of us,' " Shuler said.

Of course, friction between the conservative and liberal Democrats is inevitable. But one old pro, former Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri, says his party will figure out how to join forces.

"It won't be easy, because there is a lot of disagreement even in the Democratic caucus, but they all know the test is what can we get done and what can we get done that is important to the American people," said Gephardt, who served 14 terms in the House before deciding not to seek re-election in 2004.

The differences are going to be tough to detect at first because the new Democratic majority will first have to deal with shared campaign promises.

"They ran on two basic premises," said John Podesta, who served as White House chief of staff under President Clinton. "The first is we need a new course in Iraq, and the other is we need to strengthen the middle class in American again."

Podesta predicts the freshman class will help the Democrats overall heading into the 2008 presidential cycle.

"You are going to see particularly the more conservative members saying, 'Let's make sure the face we are showing on security is one I can go home and run on,' " he said.

They don't have to run again for two years, he said. Until then they'll have to prove they can get along.

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