Reign Of The Centrists? Moderate Democrats Have Republicans Running Scared

Centrist Democrats are running even with or leading their Republican opponents in House and Senate races across the country, GOP strategists believe Reagan Democrats are leaving their party, and for the first time, Hillary Clinton is leading John McCain in a hypothetical White House match up.

“The days of Democrats’ having to check 28 boxes before they run are over,” says DSCC Chair, Senator Charles Schumer. “We want to win.”

Newsweek, in their spotlight on Tennessee Congressman and Senatorial candidate Harold Ford taps into a truth this week that centrists have known for sometime now. People are tired of the partisan bickering from the left and the right and are ready to cast aside the ideologues and move the country forward.

Two weeks before the midterm elections, the Democrats’ fate lies not in the hands of the party’s much-dissected antiwar left but with a handful of careful, calculating centrists like Harold Ford. Just a few months ago, Republicans were heralding Ned Lamont’s defeat of Sen. Joseph Lieberman in Connecticut’s senatorial primary as the end of the Democratic Party, its surrender to the angry extreme. But spend a few minutes with Sen. Charles Schumer, the strategic mastermind behind the Democrats’ effort to win back the Senate, and Lamont’s name barely comes up. (For the record: Lamont is trailing Lieberman, who is running as an independent, by as much as 17 points in the latest polls.) Instead, Schumer is talking up the “common sense” candidates running in states like Tennessee, Missouri and Virginia—candidates who don’t sound much like Democrats even when they’re assaulting Republican opponents over the war.

For two years the Democratic political establishment has been unabashedly applying one litmus test to candidates: their ability to win. In the Senate, Schumer took flak from activist groups when he backed candidates like Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey, who is anti abortion rights. In the House, Demo-Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Rahm Emanuel corralled a group of Iraq and Afghanistan vets to run as “macho Democrats” against Republican incumbents. At Howard Dean’s Democratic National Committee—well, who’s even heard anything from Howard Dean? He’s largely taken a back seat to Bill Clinton and Barack Obama in making the Democrats’ prime-time case. “The days of Democrats’ having to check 28 boxes before they run are over,” Schumer says. “We want to win.”

The current wave of centrism in the Democratic party has it’s beginnings in the shadows of the disappointing midterm elections of 2002 when Democrat Phil Bredesen, a New Jersey-born businessman who had served as mayor of Nashville, won Tennessee’s governorship after framing himself as a cultural conservative and economic reformer. Democrat Tim Kaine, in turn, won the governorship of Virginia running as a “sensible centrist,” seceding another moderate Democrat, Mark Warner. These high profile centrist Democratic wins in red states contradicted the belief of the netroots that centrists could no longer win in red areas.

Marianne Means gives an abbreviated rundown on centrists in the midterm elections:

For years, voters have complained about the strident, partisan atmosphere in the nation’s capital, where compromise and cooperation have become dirty words.

Moderates have had a rough time, shunted aside by ideological radicals who scorn any middle way as hopelessly outdated. But this fall, the center is actually holding in lots of states. The prime example of this is Kansas, which has earned a poor reputation in recent years for extremist Republican politics.

Things got so bad the situation inspired a popular book, “What’s The Matter with Kansas?” by Thomas Frank.

Nine former prominent Republicans are running there for office as Democrats, saying they are fed up with the GOP. Paul Morrison is running for attorney general against Republican Phil Kline, who has demanded the names of abortion clinic patients and fought to defend teaching standards that question evolution. And Mark Parkinson, a former chairman of the Kansas GOP, is running for lieutenant governor alongside the centrist Democratic governor, Kathleen Sebelius.

Elsewhere, there are the two Nelsons – Democratic senators in conservative states once listed as among their party’s most endangered incumbents but now considered safe. Bill Nelson of Florida is miles ahead of Republican Katherine Harris, who as secretary of state was so blatantly biased toward George W. Bush during the 2000 balloting fiasco that moderates, independents and Democrats are still outraged. Ben Nelson of Nebraska votes with his GOP colleagues more often than any other Democratic senator, which blunts rival Pete Ricketts’ efforts to brand Nelson as an “ineffective” Democrat in a GOP-controlled political environment.

Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, running as an independent after losing his Democratic primary to a more liberal challenger, Ned Lamont, is also currently ahead in the polls. He lost the primary because of his support for President Bush’s policy in Iraq, although he insists if elected he will caucus with the Democrats.

In Virginia, Sen. George Allen, a standard-issue right-wing Republican, is in a dead heat with former Republican James Webb, now a moderate Democrat.

In Pennsylvania, right-wing firebrand Sen. Rick Santorum has already been written off by the GOP, outdistanced by a moderate Democrat, Bob Casey. Sen. Mike DeWine in Ohio also appears to be toast.

Many factors play into this rejection scenario, but the trend clearly is toward moderates this year. The public is weary of extremist rhetoric and marginal cultural issues. While most of us believe Bush has pandered to the issues of the religious right too much, religious conservative activists feel frustrated that they haven’t gotten more.

Moderates have a discouraging record of failing to get out their voters. It is the hard right and the hard left who are usually motivated to support their heroes. But this year the intensity factor is with the mushy middle, which is where the majority of us instinctively belong.

Former President Bill Clinton is out there trying to reinforce that mood, talking up the joys of “the dynamic center” where political discourse contributes to the common good.

Philosophically, he makes great sense.

In regards to Harold Ford, Jr., the focus of the Newsweek article, he is definitely not your father’s Democrat. He is your grandfather’s. Strong on national defense, traditional family values, and not afraid to talk about his faith, he is cut from the same cloth as Harry Truman and John Kenney, much like the other centrists in races this year.

In Washington, Ford was eager to prove his conservative bona fides. In his new job, he sought out the conservative Southern Blue Dog Democratic caucus and became one of only three African-American members… Though no one could ever mistake Ford for Ted Kennedy, he isn’t always the off-the-reservation Democrat he makes himself out to be. According to Congressional Quarterly, Ford supported his party upwards of 85 percent of the time in most years since Bush took office.

Speaking of Rahm Emanuel, which DonkeyDigest often does, read this piece in the Washington Post. An interesting analogy can be drawn from the description of Emanuel eating an obviously sloppy roast beef and mustard sandwich and his obsessive drive to win back the House for the Democrats.

“There’s no clean way to do this.” He says.

Emanuel pulls no punches when dealing with the GOP. Discussing the candidate he recruited to run in the congressional district of retiring Illinois Republican Henry Hyde, Emanuel says, “They call Tammy Duckworth a cut-and-runner when she left two legs in Iraq?” he shouts, jabbing a finger in the air, drawing stares from around the deli. “How dare they! I’m going to give them the medicine that they’ve been giving out. That’s what shocks them.”

“Rahm is part of the young breed that people call the new Chicago machine,” says Don Rose, a longtime liberal activist who worked for Mayors Jane Byrne and Harold Washington. “They’re not ‘dem’ and ‘dose’ politicians. They know the difference between red wine and white wine. They’re not driven by ideology, and they play to win.”

Even within the White House where he worked for Bill Clinton, few were safe from aggressive instincts for winning. He once marched up to the newly elected Tony Blair in the Oval Office, where he and Clinton were preparing to go out for their first joint appearance. “This is important,” Emanuel said to the British prime minister. “Don’t fuck it up.”

But if the Democrats do sweep back into power in a couple of weeks, one has to wonder just where the extra voters will come from. Tim Reid from the Times has the possible answer.

Republican analysts believe that (the GOP’s) problems are rooted in the return of white, blue-collar voters to the Democrat fold, a generation after Ronald Reagan wooed them to the Republican cause.

The “Reagan Democrats” have been a cornerstone of Republican electoral success for the past 20 years, especially in the Midwest, still the battleground for presidential contests. By the early 1980s, these traditional Democrat voters — both rural and urban lower middle-class — no longer saw Democrats as their champions. Socially conservative, they were attracted by Mr Reagan’s simple message of moral values, fiscal responsibility and national security. Millions fled to the Republicans and stayed.

Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster and one of the strategists behind the party’s 1994 takeover of Congress, told The Times: “The (Rick) Santorum race shows that Reagan Democrats are returning to their roots. Economic issues among blue-collar social conservatives are now subsuming concerns about social issues.

“The Republican party has failed them. It didn’t cut spending. It wasn’t honest. It hasn’t controlled immigration. On issue after issue it didn’t do what these voters expected.” Mr Luntz says that this political remigration of Reagan Democrats — which if realised next month would represent a profound change of the American political landscape — is occurring across the Midwest, where the economy is arguably an even greater issue than Iraq.

Here’s a shocker. For the first time in any poll, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has a comfortable edge over Sen. John McCain in a hypothetical match up for the White House, but take away her maiden name and McCain has a better shot of landing in the Oval Office – but not by much.

So say the results of a CNN poll released Friday by Opinion Research Corp., which asked 506 adult Americans whom they preferred among potential 2008 presidential candidates. The margin of error for the survey is plus or minus 4.5 percent.

Asked if they preferred Hillary Rodham Clinton to McCain, respondents gave the Democratic New York senator and former first lady a 51 percent to 44 percent advantage over the Republican Senator from Arizona. Remove “Rodham” and McCain had a 1 percentage point advantage, 48 percent to 47 percent.

The results fall within the sample’s margin of error, so there is a “good chance, but not a statistical certainty” that Clinton’s maiden name would help her in a match up against McCain, said Keating Holland, CNN’s polling director.

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