As the nine Democratic presidential contenders do their impersonations of whirling dervishes, a confluence of four factors appears to be freezing much of the political activity that would normally be taking place on the House, Senate, and even gubernatorial campaign levels. The long-term consequences of the freeze are far from clear. But it is already creating anxiety, slowing candidate recruitment for Senate and gubernatorial races (House recruiting starts in earnest much later), delaying incumbents' decisions about whether to retire, slowing fundraising, and generally putting a damper on other campaign activities.

The war is the first and most obvious factor causing the freeze. Overt campaigning by congressional and 2004 gubernatorial candidates would look unseemly as American forces do battle in the Middle East. Besides, voters are so preoccupied with the war that they would probably pay little attention to a campaign anyway. For potential candidates who haven't decided whether to run, the war is a convenient excuse for delaying announcements. And if a candidate does jump into a race, fundraising is a struggle because the war and a lousy economy make

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