Gaining Seats, Democrats Find Their House Ideologically Divided
While much of the Congressional political focus has been on the declining fortunes and numbers of House Republicans, House Democrats have their own problem: They are winning too many elections.
By prevailing in conservative districts where they ordinarily would not have a chance, Democrats are widening the ideological divide in their own ranks and complicating their ability to find internal consensus. It is a nice problem to have, but it is one that can bedevil party leaders. As their numbers expand, they have to juggle the competing interests of Travis Childers, the newly elected pro-gun, anti-abortion, anti-tax representative from northern Mississippi and someone like, say, Nancy Pelosi, a pro-gun control, liberal abortion-rights advocate from San Francisco who sees government as a solution.
In picking up 30 seats in 2006, Democrats walked away with some in Republican territory, with the result that many of the newcomers are representing districts where the voters are not completely in sync with the Democratic agenda.
This intramural ideological divide is not a new problem for Congressional Democrats. Back in the days before the 1994 Republican revolution, Congressional Democrats were always split between the traditional liberal big-city wing of the party and Southern boll weevil Democrats who never met a military project they didn’t like or a social reform initiative they did.
But Democrats were able to hold power for four decades because of their imposing majorities in Congress, often outnumbering Republicans by 100 or more. That cushion meant party leaders could allow dozens of Democrats to take a walk on contentious bills, protecting their voting records while the majority prevailed regardless.
Today, even with this month’s Democratic gains, the partisan spread is 236 to 199, a growing but still relatively small margin for disagreement.
But Democrats figure if they can keep winning, they can enlarge their majority to a point where it does not matter if lawmakers on the ideological edges stray.