Democrats' Liberal Lurch Could Sink Them in 2010 Elections

Congress members in Pelosi’s pocket could drive a wedge between them and their constituents that will prove of value once elections begin.

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The Democrats’ continued drift to the left has harmed the party’s political fortunes.

A poll just released by Resurgent Republic, an organization founded by former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie finds that--by a margin of 64 percent to 27 percent--those persons who are likely to vote in the November 2010 election think the United States is on “the wrong track.”

These latest estimates constitute “a net negative 11 point swing” in just two months, largely because--as any number of polls have found over the last year--independents continue to move away from President Barack Obama and the Democrats in large numbers.

[See a slide show of the 10 keys to an Obama comeback.]

Over time it has become clear that the Obama presidency represents a generational flirtation with liberalism of the kind not practiced by the Clinton White House--in part because of the checks provided by a Republican-controlled Congress during six of his eight years in office--or by Jimmy Carter who, even though he had a Congress run by Democrats to help him, was more liberal than they wanted to be.

The Democrats’ continued drift to the left has harmed the party’s political fortunes--in much the same way perhaps as the national Republican Party’s move to the right on social issues has caused it problems in the Northeast. But while the GOP at least remains competitive from Maine to New Jersey, the species once known as “the Southern Democrat” is all but extinct. South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas--which were once all reliably one party states that sent Democrats to Washington--flipped the other way, and quickly, after Ronald Reagan won the presidency.

Part of this is due to the changing nature of the electorate as middle-class Republicans moved out of the party’s former strongholds in the Northeast and Midwest into the Sun Belt. But this geographic realignment is wedded to an ideological one in which the values of rural, suburban and now exurban America are pitted against the values and political structures of urban machines.

Obama, with his roots in Chicago, typifies this kind of liberal politics despite the fact that he campaigned for president as a post-partisan centrist. But so does House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who comes out of San Francisco and has roots in Baltimore, where her father and brother both served as mayor.

Both cities are archetypes of the kind of governing liberal philosophy that voters, particularly independents, are now rejecting in increasing numbers. And, as political scientists Merle and Earl Black demonstrated in The Rise of Southern Republicans, a landmark study of U.S. politics in the late 20th Century, the national liberalism of the Democratic Party has negative consequences in congressional elections.

Among their findings is that, over time, exurban, suburban, and rural Democrats who consistently vote with the national party--as defined by those votes cast in favor of the agenda of a Democratic Speaker of the House--are more likely to lose their seats than those Democrats who are more obviously independent of the national party; that is, more in sync with the values of their constituents.

Seizing on this, the National Republican Congressional Committee has put a page on its web site devoted to what they are calling “Pelosi's Puppets”--10 Democrats who the NRCC says “have remained fiercely loyal to their puppet master House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her radical agenda.”

[See who Pelosi's biggest campaign contributors are.]

The committee argues that the 10 members they are highlighting through this project, who have been “instrumental in helping Pelosi and the Democrat leadership push their anti-business, anti-jobs agenda through Congress while piling unprecedented spending and debt onto the backs of American taxpayers” are being rewarded for their votes with substantial campaign contributions from Pelosi’s national network of wealthy donors.

Rep. Betsy Markey, who represents the formerly Republican-held 4th Congressional District in Colorado, for example, voted with Pelosi on such key issues as the stimulus package, cap and trade, and government-run healthcare, and has received more than $25,000 in what the NRCC calls “Pelosi dollars.” Rep. Martin Heinrich, who represents the traditionally Republican 1st Congressional District in New Mexico, has a 97.3 percent Pelosi Unity Voting Percentage and has gotten almost $20,000 in “Pelosi dollars.” And Steve Driehaus, the Democrat who represents much of Cincinnati, Ohio, is scored as voting with Pelosi just under 95 percent of the time while pulling in almost $15,000 from Pelosi’s network.

By establishing that these representatives, and others, are voting with Pelosi in near-lockstep, the Republicans are putting the Blacks’ thesis to the test. Showing Markey, Heinrich, Driehaus, and others are in Pelosi’s pocket should, if the Blacks are correct, drive a wedge between them and their constituents that will prove of value once the election begins in earnest.

  • Check out our editorial cartoons on the 2010 campaigns.
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  • See a slide show of 5 key issues in the 2010 elections.