The events of Election Day will ultimately polarize Congress and affect the conservative policy agenda being debated and passed by lawmakers. Although Republicans were launched into power in the House, the more conservative Democratic Caucus, known as the Blue Dog Democrats, lost power by losing several of its more conservative members. Add to that many newly elected, Tea Party-backed Republicans and we should expect a more partisan House.
The Blue Dog coalition lost 28 out of 54 seats, including two of its leaders, Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin and Baron Hill. Many of them, including Herseth-Sandlin and Hill, ran campaigns that included liberal and conservative ideals to attract voters from the right and left. Herseth-Sandlin touted her vote against Obamacare and Hill noted that he favored a balanced budget on his campaign website. However, they could not overcome the anti-incumbent sentiment among voters even with moderate campaigns and a moderate record in Congress.
These members of Congress pursued policies that appealed to both Democrats and Republicans in the House. For example, 24 of the 54 Blue Dog Democrats voted “no” on the Healthcare bill, one of the focal points of the 111th Congress, in which Democrats held the majority in both houses. Of these 24, only 10 were reelected. As for the stimulus, only nine Blue Dogs voted no. However, even with a conservative vote, only three were reelected. Finally, their votes on cap and trade couldn’t spare these Democrats. Twenty-five in the coalition voted no, but of those who voted no, only seven were reelected. Despite their voting records, many of these Democrats couldn’t overcome the anti-incumbent feeling on Election Day.
The Tea party endorsed about 100 House candidates before November 2nd. Not all of them won, but the Republican Party picked up 63 seats, some of which have Tea Party endorsements. In addition, 28 current members attended the first meeting of the Tea Party Caucus, led by Michele Bachmann (R-MN), adding to the movement’s influence in Congress.
The election launched a new brand of Republican, the Tea Party Congressman, into the House. This, along with a weakened Blue Dog Coalition, will polarize Congress. Decision making during a change in power in Congress requires representatives who are willing to compromise. The loss of more than half of the Blue Dog Coalition and gains by some very steadfast conservatives could result in gridlock. It remains to be seen if the new Republican seats will help push the GOP agenda or if the loss of moderate Democrats will be a detriment to progress.
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