Salena Zito


Two issues plague Democrats when it comes to congressmen representing swing districts: The moderates don’t get heard in Washington, and centrist districts are rapidly becoming extinct because of the way congressional lines are being drawn.

Main Street America’s ability to be represented fully is diminishing, according to U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire of Southwestern Pennsylvania.

  “I have a district which is pretty evenly divided politically, so I hear from a variety of voices with their concerns,” the three-term Democrat said.

  He follows those concerns when voting, he insisted, rather than following the party line.

  That is not the case, he said, for colleagues in districts that are heavily Democrat or Republican: “When they attend town halls, they are likely to only hear concerns from like-minded people because of the partisan ways that districts are drawn.”

  Not all of Main Street is on one side or the other, said former congresswoman Kathy Dalhkemper, a Democrat who represented northwestern Pennsylvania until being defeated last year in the wave of moderate-Democrat losses to Republicans.

  “The Democratic Party is not really the ‘big tent’ it claims to be,” she said of the small space available to represent centrist districts.

  Dalhkemper thinks most Americans are pretty centrist: “More people are swing voters than we realize. Take myself, for example. I don't believe in everything that every Democrat stands for, and I am proud to say that I have voted for Republicans in the past.”

  Dalhkemper has not ruled out running for office again, but perhaps not immediately.

  More than 50 moderate Democrats were in Congress before the 2010 midterm elections. That number is circling the drain at 22, with more disappearing each day.

  Rep. Dennis Cardoza of California, one of the fiscally conservative “blue dog” Democrats, announced his intention to retire last week, citing a lack of politicians in the middle as one of his reasons.

  He joins 12 other centrists who have said they would retire or seek another office.

  Fellow blue dogs Mike Ross of Arkansas and Dan Boren of Oklahoma have said they won't be coming back when their terms expire in January 2013.

  A moderate Democrat such as Boren represents a district with a large number of white working-class, often Catholic traditional Democrats who outnumber registered Republicans by a wide margin, explained Eldon Eisenach, a Tulsa University political theorist.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.