It is not without a massive amount of irony that Heath Shuler's triumphant return to D.C. as a newly minted Congressman trumps his previous legacy of spectacular failure there as an NFL QB.
The Democrats won back the House with a two-pronged strategy: (1) an external factor (dissatisfaction with Bush) that they simply rode and (2) and internal factor (diversification of candidates, specifically towards the center/right) that allowed free-swinging Independents and dissatisfied moderate Republicans to feel OK -- some might add "finally" -- with voting for a Dem.
That's where Shuler emerges as the poster boy in politics he never became in football.
He's right -- perhaps even far right -- on social issues, but was recruited to run as a Democrat because of his commitment to some of the D's more populist platforms -- and, far more important, for a profile that gave him a chance to win in an otherwise red district.
He was the type of candidate who the Dems would NEVER have sought out throughout the past few elections, as the party lurched to the left (and as it kept losing elections in traditionally red – or even "purple" – districts).
"Expanding the tent" turned out to be a winning election strategy. It remains to be seen whether the new coalition can be held together – the freshmen who led the charge to win the House back for the Dems seem to be moderates; the Democratic leadership that benefits from that charge is hard left.
And, amazingly, in the middle of it all: Heath (Freaking!) Shuler, NFL loser but Politics champion.-- D.S.