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Are Centrist Democrats An Endangered Species? Are Centrist Democrats An Endangered Species?

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Politics

Are Centrist Democrats An Endangered Species?

Former Democratic Reps. Artur Davis, Dan Maffei, and Glenn Nye all said political centrists are endangered.

March 29, 2011
For Davis, his centrist positions were his undoing - but not by Republicans or independents. Instead, he was rejected by his own party, losing soundly to the more liberal state Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks in the gubernatorial primary. "Party primaries are dominated by the bases now. The minority party is more likely to be out of touch with the majority than anyone would think." said Davis, now with the lobbying and law shop SNR Denton. "Democrats were conservative when there were a lot more Democrats, but so many have left the party now. The reality is that you're left with a smaller and smaller party, and as the party becomes more insular, more out of touch, it's harder for a centrist candidate to run." Davis attributed Democrats' widespread losses, many of them in the South, to the increasing nationalization of elections, and pointed to the losses by two of his conservative neighbors - former Reps. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) and Bobby Bright (D-Ala.) - as evidence. "As politics has become more nationalized, voters are drawing conclusions based on what they see about national issues," said Davis. "Those two guys essentially did everything you could do in terms of branding. It would have mattered in a less nationalized environment, but voters in southeast Alabama and voters in northern Mississippi decided, 'Gene, Bobby, we like you, but we don't like your party, we don't like your president." Nye, now a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund after losing his bid for a second term to Republican Scott Rigell, said he doesn't see those trends changing. "I can't say that I'm an optimist going forward about things getting easier for moderates to survive," said Nye. "At the end of the day, moderates tend to be the folks that come from the districts that are swing districts, which means we're always going to be vulnerable in elections." But while his class was largely unneeded by the Democratic majority to pass legislation, with a new GOP caucus dominated by freshman conservatives, it's now the GOP that has had to look to those remaining moderate Democrats - who are certainly looking out for their own reelection prospects - to pass some measures, such as the most recent stopgap budget measure. "Republicans need centrist Democrats to come over and help them pass a bill," Nye pointed out. "The folks on the outside tend to be breaking away, not breaking on the center, but breaking on the fringe, so it's almost like the balance has changed and that they have to have a bipartisan coalition be a part of things." But even amid an unfavorable climate they don't see changing, both Maffei and Nye are still weighing running again in 2012. Maffei sent an email to supporters last week confirming he was considering a rematch, and he told Hotline On Call after the panel he would make a definitive decision in the next few months - well before redistricting plans are drawn in the Empire State, which is losing two congressional districts. Nye seemed less certain about running again, saying he was leaning against another bid and that his state's rumored incumbent-protection plan in redrawing district lines would indeed weigh heavily on his decision. "I don't need to decide right now, so I'm going to wait and see how redistricting plays out before I make a decision," Nye told Hotline On Call. "Whatever happens, I'm going to be engaged in politics and helping our party in Virginia. I just haven't decided whether I'm going to be somebody that's going to be on the ballot in 2012 or not." CORRECTION: Maffei sent out an e-mail to supporters confirming his interest in a rematch; it did not solicit campaign funds.
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