“That’s going to alienate people like myself and other like-minded Democrats in the state,” he says. “And you run the risk of losing independents that traditionally voted Democrat.”

Pacheco’s own politics — he was known as a progressive in the Assembly — surely compound that kind of worry. But the party has always been riven by faction. And observers say the new chairman has the interpersonal skills to bridge — or at least soften — the ideological divide.

Pacheco is also taking care to hone a message, well-tuned to the recession, that can unite Democrats. “This party is the party of opportunity — opportunity for education, op-portunity to have good, high-paying jobs,” he says.

It is a tone quite different than that of his predecessor. Lynch was known, primarily, as a partisan bulldog — offering sharp criticism of the Carcieri and Bush administrations.

And that reputation has proven a mild drag on his Congressional campaign, raising questions about whether he is suited to the give-and-take of the legislative process in what is sure to be a closely divided Washington next year

Pacheco points out that Lynch’s style was, in part, a function of circumstance: the Democrats were the party of opposition during much of his 12-year tenure. And the new chairman promises an approach more suited to this moment. He’ll point out the differences between Democrats and Republicans when appropriate, he says, but his focus will be on revitalizing a party that saw, in Barack Obama, the potential for a new sort of grassroots excitement.

It is a style, of course, that could play quite well in four years should the chairman venture back into electoral politics.

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