The Republican party should not hunt Blue Dog Democrats in the 2010 elections, writes Mathew Manweller, a political-science professor. Blue Dogs often vote with Republicans. Better to go after Democrats like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a liberal in a conservative Nevada.
Believe it or not, it is already time to start thinking about the 2010 midterm elections. It seemed unimaginable six months ago, but Republicans although not “tan, rested and ready,” are rejuvenated. The Rasmussen Poll shows the GOP leading Democrats by five points on the generic Congressional ballot. It is in this environment that politicos smell blood in the water and make mistakes.
There is a tendency for national political parties, especially minority parties, to go after the most vulnerable incumbents. This means focusing on swing districts or districts where the presidential partisan vote differed widely from the congressional partisan vote. The national GOP will be making a serious mistake if they follow this strategy across the board. A more nuanced approach is necessary if the GOP wants to win back majority status, but more importantly, the trust of the American people.
GOP Chairman Michael Steele should not go after the “Blue Dog Democrats” in 2010. This small group of representatives has shown themselves to value practicality over ideology. They have been willing to compromise, change their minds and even oppose their own party when necessary, characteristics that should be valued regardless of one’s own political affiliation. More will be lost than gained if the GOP attacks this coalition.
What message does it send to conservative Democrats if the GOP assails the very people who were willing to work with them? Republican challenges will simply drive Blue Dogs to seek cover in the liberal wing of their party and make them question why they should ever cross the aisle again. More importantly, what message does it send to the American voter if the GOP seeks to overthrow the very group of people who are actually looking (and thinking) before they leap? If Republicans win a majority on the backs of Blue Dogs, they will look cynical in victory and send a message that the desire for power trumps a commitment to rational discourse and the politics of cooperation.
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Such a victory would not be good for America. After having lost the trust of the American people in 2006, the GOP needs to show that they can put country above partisan gain. Driving out conservative Democrats doesn’t send that message. In truth, such a move would further polarize an already polarized America. For decades, Democrats have been targeting Rockefeller Republicans and Republicans have been targeting soft Democrats. The result has been an ever widening chasm between the Left and the Right. That can be good for fundraising, but not for public policy.
Does that mean the GOP should sit on the sidelines during the 2010 elections? Absolutely not. But they should target their challenges to representatives who are disproportionately liberal in comparison to their districts. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is a perfect example — uncompromisingly liberal but representing the relatively conservative state of Nevada. From a pure political perspective, replacing a conservative Tennessee Democrat with a Tennessee Republican consumes scarce political resources but does nothing to increase the number of votes to block Obama’s legislation.
The well-respected Cook Report identifies 36 Democratic members of Congress who live in Republican-leaning districts. Filter out the Blue Dogs and add in all the open seats and you have a target population. A targeted midterm strategy means ignoring the “unbeatables” such as Nancy Pelosi in San Francisco or Barney Frank in Massachusetts, giving your intermittent allies like the Blue Dogs a free pass, and concentrating your firepower on representatives who are fundamentally out of step with their constituency.
As a professor of political science, I often hear calls for the creation of a third party. Truth is, we already have three parties in the United States — Republicans Democrats, and a nebulous coalition of Southern and Plains state Democrats in union with the last vestiges of New England Republicans. This third group plays an important role in our political system. They check overreaching Republicans and overreaching Democrats. And although it is in neither party’s short-term interests, it is in America’s long-term interest that both parties let this third group survive.
Mathew Manweller is an associate professor of political science at Central Washington University and a member of the Washington State Republican Party Executive Committee.