November 23, 2012

Collins’ clout: Is it likely to grow?

Experts believe a shrinking GOP moderate caucus may empower a centrist like Maine’s new senior senator.

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Sen. Susan Collins

As for the overall tone of Congress, leaders in both parties are expressing a willingness to compromise, beginning with negotiating an agreement to avoid the looming "fiscal cliff" by year's end.

Other observers say while it's too early to tell, the 2012 elections appear to have, as Baker put it, "lowered the temperature of polarization a bit."

While her retirement due to hyper-partisanship has drawn the most attention nationally, Snowe is not the only moderate senator to opt out or be forced out of office in 2012.

The list of those who won't return next year includes Democrats Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, Democrat-turned-independent Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, and Republicans Dick Lugar of Indiana and Brown of Massachusetts.

Some departing senators were replaced by professed centrists while others -- including Brown -- will be replaced by senators believed to lean much more toward one side.

Maine's King has insisted that he will remain independent even as he caucuses with the Democrats.

"In some ways, I think the picture remained the same, but there is not a lot of heft left in the political center," said Binder with the Brookings Institution.

Former U.S. Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, who now heads a centrist organization known as the Republican Main Street Partnership, said Congress "probably got a little more polarized than it was before."

"It wasn't a titanic shift, but it continues the gradual shift that we have seen," said Davis.

Snowe and Collins represent two of the Republican Main Street Partnership's four members from the Senate.

The steady shift away from the center and toward the extremes is clearly shown in an annual rating of Congress' political leanings compiled by the National Journal.

In 1982, 58 of the Senate's 100 members fell somewhere in the middle of the National Journal's rankings of the most liberal and conservative lawmakers.

Nearly 30 years later, the difference was black and white -- more accurately, dark blue and deep red. In 2011, every Democrat was more liberal than every Republican in the Senate, and vice versa.

That's not to say there aren't moderates left in the House and Senate who break with their parties. But the ratings -- and similar rankings compiled by other groups -- suggest that those moderates who remain spend less time in the "center aisle" than their similarly labeled predecessors.

Washington Bureau Chief Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:


On Twitter: @KevinMillerDC


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