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New Democrat Coalition Sees Opportunity in Party’s Losses

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New Democrat Chairman Rep. Joe Crowley says the coalition needs to be assertive in the next Congress after losing more than 20 members in the midterms.

The business-friendly New Democrat Coalition is ready to take a leading role in helping the Obama administration advance legislation after Republicans take control of the House in the 112th Congress, its members and senior Democratic aides say.

Like House Democrats at large, the New Democrats took a hit in the November midterm elections. But they believe that their centrist stance will put them in a strong position to bridge the gap with Republicans on trade, taxes and other legislative priorities for both the coalition and the administration.

The New Democrats will have a “huge role to play,” Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (Texas) said this month, before the House adjourned.

The intractable differences between Republicans and progressive Democrats and the electoral losses suffered by the fiscally conservative Democrats of the Blue Dog Coalition will make the New Democrat Coalition the go-to organization for moving legislation, he added.

“I think we actually represent the best prospects of reaching that middle ground on many issues and working with a Republican majority,” Gonzalez said, while conceding that the Blue Dogs will have a voice at the table. 

Trade issues in particular, including a pending free-trade agreement with South Korea, will present opportunities for the New Democrats, according to Rep. Gerry Connolly (Va.). “The New Dem Caucus has been a philosophically pro-free-trade caucus, so I think it’s going to play a pivotal role,” Connolly said this month.

The New Democrat Coalition was formed in 1997 and enjoyed several years of influence while President Bill Clinton, a political ally, was in the White House. However, the group foundered after George W. Bush took office, and it has been working since 2006 to rebuild itself by asserting its moderate voice within the party and by strengthening its fundraising capacity and connections downtown.

The November midterm elections presented another setback for the coalition. Its membership is expected to be in the mid-40s next year, down from 69 in the 111th Congress, after incoming freshmen and other prospective new members are interviewed and accepted into the group, according to a senior Democratic aide affiliated with the coalition.

“We did lose a number of great minds” in the coalition in the midterm elections, New Democrat Chairman Joe Crowley (N.Y.) said at a Third Way breakfast in December with Vice Chairman Ron Kind (Wis.). Many of the losses were seats that historically have been held by Republicans, Crowley added.

New Democrats will need to be assertive in the next Congress to compensate, Connolly said.

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