Rich, I just addressed this somewhat in a recent column. I think that’s true of the leadership certainly. But the Democratic party as a whole? Not really. In the House, they’ve gained a majority largely through capturing Republican seats in districts that are still conservative. The Democratic party has a ridiculously large gulf between it’s most conservative and most liberal members that runs the gamut between Dennis Kucinich and guys that had an ACU (American Conservative Union) rating of 76 last year. Sean Oxendine over at The Next Right actually tried to quantify this by ranking Democrats in order by their ACU rating:
The most liberal Republican — Wayne Gilchrist — has a lifetime ACU of 60. That’s not real conservative — and wasn’t conservative enough for the voters in MD-01 — but it is still pretty conservative. Count 15 seats into the Republican caucus — about number 250. That’s Todd Platts. Todd Platts has a lifetime ACU of 76. That is not ultra-conservative, but no one is going to mistake him for a liberal. Count in 45 seats, to Latham. He’s a member of the class of 1994, with an ACU of 86. (Again, Poole-Rosenthal is different than ACU, but I thought it would be useful to give some type of reference point for people).
Now take a look at the Democratic caucus. Its most conservative member is Tom Barrow. HIS ACU is lifetime is 47, and has gone as high as 76 last year (well into the Republican caucus). 15 in is John Tanner, who still has a lifetime ACU of 43. Go in 45, and you find Congressman Costello, whose lifetime ACU is 34. Go another 20 in, to 65, and you’re at Congressman Ortiz, whose lifetime ACU is 33. You’re now a little less than 1/3 of the way into the Democratic caucus, and you have a member who votes with the ACU about 1/3 of the time.
In other words, well into the Democratic caucus, you have members with some pretty conservative instincts.
As for the Senate, I think that’s a little trickier. With the G.O.P. brand in the toilet they’re picking up seats, but again by representing themselves as moderates and/or conservative Dems. Mark Udall is a good example — he may well win his Senate race in Colorado, but as a Congressman from Boulder he has a lifetime ACU rating of eight. Ever since he started running for Senate, however, he’s been a been going out of his way to hide his voting record and portray himself as a moderate in a very purple state. If he reverts back to being a dogmatic liberal in the Senate, he’s likely to pay a price.
Anyway, this ideological gulf makes the Democratic majority very hard to govern — how do you please Kucinich and a guy who votes with the G.O.P. three quarters of the time? And means that in time many of these districts/Senate seats might be ripe for Republicans to take back, particularly if Obama wins and they have a very liberal President to run against.