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Elections both reflect a political party’s appeal and create a new face that ultimately recasts that image. And the midterm elections of 2010 are no exception.
For Democrats, “diversity” has been about ideology and region recently — proving to Americans that the party isn’t a bunch of liberals who live in big cities and on the two coasts. For Republicans, changing the party’s face has been about making it look more like America — electing more African-Americans, Hispanics and women.
Democratic strategists have talked proudly about the party’s Southern successes in 2006 and 2008, as well as their victories in Republican-leaning areas. That changed last week, and not only because the party lost many governorships in the heartland.
The House Democratic Caucus will look significantly different in January than it does now, after the defeat of dozens of moderate Democrats, and the party’s “new look” may be hard to change over the next few years.
Three dozen Democrats who occupied Congressional districts that were won by Republican presidential nominee John McCain in 2008 were swept out by voters on Tuesday. Though some of the Representatives ousted — such as Virginia’s Tom Perriello and Ohio’s John Boccieri — weren’t easily described as moderates, many were.
The casualty list of recently elected moderates includes Reps. Bobby Bright (Ala.), Walt Minnick (Idaho), Frank Kratovil (Md.), Travis Childers (Miss.), Glenn Nye (Va.) and Harry Teague (N.M.), while veteran Reps. Chet Edwards (Texas) and Gene Taylor (Miss.) also were defeated.
Bright, Minnick and Taylor voted against the stimulus, health care reform and cap-and-trade, while Childers and Nye voted against both health care reform and cap-and-trade.
A handful of moderate Southern Democrats survived the Republican wave, such as Mike Ross (Ark.), Heath Shuler (N.C.), Mike McIntyre (N.C.) and Jim Cooper (Tenn.), but most of the region’s Democratic Congressmen are either liberal African-Americans or white liberals, such as Steve Cohen (Tenn.), Kathy Castor (Fla.) and Lloyd Doggett (Texas).
The reshaping of the House Democratic Caucus makes it more difficult for Democratic leaders to present the party as a “big tent,” a strategy that party leaders employed over the past few years to contrast the Democratic Party with the GOP.
And a more liberal Caucus obviously creates the risk that Hill Democrats will move to the left, making it more difficult to attract moderates to the party and more difficult to win back some of the Congressional seats the party lost last week.
If Speaker Nancy Pelosi becomes Minority Leader, it will be hard for Congressional Democrats to improve their brand.
Even if House Democrats don’t move further to the left, the party will have an uphill fight in the near future to win back many of the districts it lost.