Political moderates becoming endangered species in halls of Congress

The Takeaway

It’s a tough time to be a moderate Democrat in the halls of Congress.

Only 24 so-called blue dog Democrats remain in Congress, and as the November elections near, several of them are looking at tough re-election campaigns. An unpopular president sharing the ticket, major redistricting by a number of Republican-controlled state legislatures and tough conservative opponents may make the blue dog extinct.

Robert “Bud” Cramer, a long-time blue dog Democrat, was the representative of Alabama’s 5th Congressional District. He left Congress in 2009 and is now the Chairman of Wexler Walker Public Policy Associates.

“It’s always been difficult to be a conservative Democrat,” Cramer argued.

He was one of the first members of what would become known as the Blue Dog Democrats, in 1995. Cramer said the 1990s were a good time for conservative Democrats. 

“We set out to declare that we were from the center. We would be more proactive, we would be more aggressive. And we would accomplish things,” Cramer said.

As an example, he cited the welfare reform legislation that he and his conservative Democrat colleagues championed, together with centrist Republicans, that ultimately became law after it was signed by President Bill Clinton.

Doing that today, though, would be increasingly difficult not just because of the disappearance of conservative Democrats, but also because more liberal Republicans are also a dying breed.

Cramer said redistricting at the state-level has helped to ensure districts are either overwhelmingly Democrat, or overwhelmingly Republican — which favors more ideological candidates.

“Redistricting for the House has taken its toll. The party alignments, the party bases, just seem to not want members to compromise and work together,” Cramer said. “And yet, we look out here at the country and the country is mainly full of centrists. They’re watching the Congress not work and they’re saying ‘We don’t like this.’ And so Congress right now is going through an identity crisis with itself.”

More people identify themselves as independents these days, Cramer said. But in Congress politicians are moving in the opposite direction.

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