As you can see, most Democrats who took over GOP-held seats in the past two elections are pulling their district to the left. That's because most seats are swing seats being replaced by not-super-conservative Democrats, or lean-Republican seats where any Democrat is more liberal than the district. Among '06 freshmen, the two best Democrats are John Hall in suburban NYC, and Bruce Braley in Eastern Iowa. The worst are Joe Courtney in Connecticut, who's become something of a China hawk; Ron Klein, whose deal I don't know; and Joe Donnelly, who's 100% anti-choice. These numbers are somewhat different if you use the 110th Congress and the PVI based on the 2004 and 2000 elections; for example between 2006 and 2008, Carol Shea-Porter shifted to the right as the result of a tough reelection fight, while her district went way to the left with Obama on the ticket.
Among '08 freshmen, the Democrat who is furthest to the left of his district is ... wait for it ... Bobby Bright. That's right, the second most conservative Democrat (behind Walt Minnick, who's basically useless) is also the freshman who is farthest to the left of his district, simply because his district is so conservative. Now, Chet Edwards manages to hold a more conservative district with a significantly less conservative voting record, but he's an entrenched incumbent. After Bright comes Frank Kratovil, who's more or less in the same boat; then Eric Massa, Betsy Markey, Alan Grayson (shocker!), and Harry Teague. The worst of the bunch are Jim Himes, Dan Dreihaus, Dina Titus, Dan Maffei, and Gary Peters.
What about incumbents--who are the crappiest Democrats? It's a bit harder to see any patterns. Here are the 13 Democrats at least 75 slots more conservative than their districts:
|MEEK ||FLORIDA17 ||184 ||14 ||170 |
|DAVIS ||ALABAMA7 ||227 ||59 ||168 |
|PELOSI ||CALIFOR8 ||153 ||10 ||143 |
|MEEKS ||NEW YOR6 ||148 ||9 ||139 |
|RICHARDSON ||CALIFOR37 ||161 ||30 ||131 |
|BRADY ||PENNSYL1 ||127 ||13 ||114 |
|LIPINSKI ||ILLINOI3 ||205 ||104 ||101 |
|MALONEY ||NEW YOR14 ||130 ||33 ||97 |
|DEGETTE ||COLORAD1 ||142 ||49 ||93 |
|SIRES ||NEW JER13 ||141 ||51 ||90 |
|RANGEL ||NEW YOR15 ||85 ||1 ||84 |
|TOWNS ||NEW YOR10 ||86 ||4 ||82 |
|HARMAN ||CALIFOR36 ||167 ||92 ||75 |
Kendrick Meek and Artur Davis are running for the Senate as black men in the South while holding safe seats. They don't really count; if we were to use their score from the 110th Congress, they would show up as more conservative than their district, but not this conservative. Pelosi is in the leadership so that doesn't really count either since she rarely votes. Of the remaining ten members, I count four members of the Congressional Black Caucus—Gregory Meeks, Laura Richardson, Charlie Rangel, and Edolphus Towns. Rangel is in the leadership, and both he and Edolphus Towns are at least fairly liberal. That leaves Meeks and Richardson as the real standouts from the CBC. Some of the other members on this list have been the targets of primaries before—Dan Lipinski, Jane Harman—so the others on this list may attract challengers in the future.
One last chart, this is a chart of white Southern Democrats. We're going to use the CQ South, defined as the old Confederacy plus Kentucky and Oklahoma:
Only seven of these 41 members are to their district's right (17%), better than to 17 out of 51 members of the '06 and '08 classes (33%). Six of those seven represent safe seats. These are reps who are dealmakers like Jim Cooper, (who's slightly to the right of his Nashville-based district), or have such liberal districts it's simply hard to get to their left (Lloyd Doggett in Austin). The exception is John Barrow (D-GA12; photo from Wik). Barrow represents a seat that was redrawn by state Republicans in 2005. He won his 2006 reelection in a nail-biter, but cruised to victory in 2008, winning 66-34. His district appears to have shifted to the left, though his large margin may in part be due to Obama's presence on the ticket and his district's large African-American population. He must think that the 2010 electorate will look like the 2006 electorate, because despite the fact his seat appears fairly safe, he's still behaving like an extremely conservative Democrat.
If people are casting about for members who deserve a primary challenge, Dan Lipinski is an obvious target, as is Jane Harman. Donna Edwards may provide a template for running challenges to entrenched CBC incumbents. And while it's tempting to go after members who have tried to stymie health care in a high-profile way coughMikeRosscough, don't forget about members who are doing their district a disservice. John Barrow is a "more Democrat" when his district deserves a "better Democrat". That may not be in the cards in 2010, but with Obama on the ticket in 2012 it's definitely something worth considering.
If people find this stuff useful, I may post more charts. What do you want to see? Blue Dogs? Stupak Dems?
I'll upload the spreadsheet soon, but at the moment Google Docs is misbehaving.
What's Donna "Kittens!" Edwards' score? Agreed that she's the best recent template for this sort of thing, but the idea of primarying only conservative members of the CBC has a certain awfulness to it.
Donna Edwards is the 9th most liberal Congresswoman. Her district is the 23rd most liberal. My guess is that prior to 2008, the district was probably not so liberal ... maybe 50th or so?
In the 109th Congress, prior to Edwards' first challenge, Wynn was the 146th most conservative member, far more conservative than the district. In the 110th, he was the 34th most liberal.
Again, I think not just Richardson and Meeks, but Lipinski, Harman, and Barrow all deserve primaries at some level. Sires is sort of an odd duck -- his voting record is on par with Bob Menendez who used to hold his seat.
I agree it would be awful if the upshot of this was that the only way to make the Democratic caucus more progressive was to make sure every CBC member was as liberal as possible.
Actually, given this discussion about the CBC, I would like to see something else: which CBC members represent something other than a safe district (safe defined, maybe, as D+10). I ask because, if CBC members mostly represent safe districts (and I suspect they do), it's not surprising that some of them would seem to be promising targets for "better Democrats" challenges.
Fascinating! I live in Jane Harman's district, actually, and will be voting for Marcy Winograd again next year, so I'm glad to hear she really deserves it.
Could you throw up a complete list of just the freshmen if you have it? Alternately, I'd love to see Parker Griffith vs. Bobby Bright in light of the totally counter-intuitive result from your research. Thanks!
PS--Agree on awfulness...and the irony is that it's a symptom of the VRA's requirements for black-majority districts.
The thing is, the Lipinski primary was an utter failure. Tom Lantos died before Jackie Spier could primary him. The Lieberman challenge ended up apparently proving to Lieberman that he was immune to consequences. Heck, Karen Carter couldn't beat obvious felon Dollar Bill Jefferson.
What are the models for success? Sestak has changed Specter's behavior for the better, hugely, but most political candidates aren't going to want to torpedo their careers in order to improve someone's behavior. They want to win. Edwards made Wynn less of a bank-enabling swine, and then she won. And she's an objectively good Congresswoman and relatively a better one than Wynn.
Maybe that county commissioner will be Kanjorski, and we'll have another model to examine.
Don't forget that Lapinski benefits from the Chicago/Daley "machine." There was a fair amount of monkey business in that primary.
Re: Brady. He's the Philly Democratic chair, so he's not going anywhere. I'm still amazed he didn't win the Mayoral contest.
I would very much like to see Stupak Dems, if you do more charts.
I'm originally from Harman's district, and I'm no big fan of hers, but the Stupak cadre are the ones I'd really like to oust. It's tough to imagine anyone more deserving of primary challengers than Democrats who make their support for the central piece of Democratic legislation contingent on gutting women's rights.
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