The Death March of the Moderates

A famous map by Charles Joseph Minard illustrates the plight of Napoleon’s Army during the 1812 invasion of Russia. At each point of the map, the strength of Napoleon’s army is depicted by the width of a bar showing the movement of Napoleon’s troops. At the beginning of the campaign, this bar is several inches thick, but it steadily narrows at Napoleon reaches Moscow. During his retreat during the harsh winter, the bar narrows dramatically. By the time the French Army exits Russia, the line is the width of a pen stroke.

Such a map may now be appropriate to representing the size of the Senate’s moderate contingent. With Oylmpia Snowe’s announced retirement, it appears that the moderates may now have turned the corner at Moscow and are headed into a winter retreat of oblivion.

Using DW-NOMINATE scores that fall between -.2 and 2 as a rough indicator of moderate, eleven moderates served in the 107th Senate (2001-2002). These were:

•Max Baucus
•John Breaux
•Susan Collins
•Lincoln Chafee
•Mike DeWine
•Jim Jeffords
•Zell Miller
•Ben Nelson
•Olympia Snowe
•Arlen Specter
•Gordon Smith

In hindsight, it is easy to see that this was an endangered group. With perhaps the exceptions of Specter and DeWine, they were all Democrats representing heavily Republican states or vice versa.

Nevertheless, the size of the group (if not its individual members) held up reasonably well over the decade. The 111th Senate (2009-2010) had ten moderates. The group had been reinforced by the Blanch Lincoln, Evan Bayh, Scott Brown, George Voinovich, Joe Manchin to offset the departures of Breaux, Chafee, DeWine, Jeffords, Miller, and Smith.

But it appears that the Russian winter has set in. Bayh and Voinovich retired before the 2010 elections, and their seats were taken by conservative Republicans. Specter and Lincoln were defeated for reelection. These seats also went to conservatives. Nelson is joining Snowe in retirement. It is expected that Nelson’s seat will be won by conservative Republican or the liberal former Senator Bob Kerrey. Snowe’s seat will almost certainly be won by a liberal Democrat. Brown is currently fighting for reelection in a high profile campaign against the liberal hero Elizabeth Warren. If he loses and no new moderates are elected, the moderate battalion will be reduced to Baucus, Collins, and Manchin.

Although my cutoff at +/-.2 is somewhat arbitrary, the story would not change much if I expanded the window. Of the near misses, Jim Webb is retiring and Richard Lugar is in a tough primary battle.

The collapse of his army had dire consequences for Napoleon’s regime. I hope the same will not be true of the Senate following the rout of the moderates.

5 Responses to The Death March of the Moderates

  1. Amy Fried February 29, 2012 at 9:24 pm #

    I disagree that “Snowe’s seat will almost certainly be won by a liberal Democrat.” One prominent potential Democratic candidate is Representative Mike Michaud, who is a Blue Dog Democrat. Another possible candidate is former Governor Angus King, an independent who is a moderate.

    Recall that Maine’s current conservative Republican governor won in a race as one of three significant candidates (the others were a Democrat and an independent) and two additional candidates. Moreover, by very large margins, Maine has elected to the Senate Republicans Bill Cohen, Margaret Chase Smith, Susan Collins, and Olympia Snowe.

    There is certainly the possibility that a liberal Democrat will win the Maine Senate seat, but there’s no certainty.

    That said, your point about the decline of moderates in the Senate is well-taken.

  2. Jim Melcher February 29, 2012 at 9:51 pm #

    I completely agree with Amy, my friend and colleague to the east down US 2. For openers, Maine has a long history of fairly centrist senators–not a Paul Wellstone or Jim DeMint in the bunch ideologically. Maine has a high percentage of unenrolled (Independent) voters and loads of ticketsplitters. Susan Collins got re-elected in the same race when Obama won Maine in a romp. Second, I’d advise not burying a Maine Republican Party that just took both houses of the legislature and the governor’s office for the first time since 1966 in 2010. Third, everything Amy says is correct, plus there is also Eliot Cutler as a potential Independent candidate who just got 37% in the last gubernatorial election. Saying “Snowe’s seat will almost certainly be won by a liberal Democrat” is going out on a shakier limb than hopping on a rotting silver maple branch in a Maine ice storm. 🙂
    —Jim Melcher, UMaine Farmington

  3. Steve Moody March 2, 2012 at 1:21 am #

    Am I mistaken to think of Montana freshman senator, Jon Tester, as a moderate? He is in a bloody dual with Montana’s singular congressional rep. whose campaign was kicked off in my home town by, Michele Bachman (need I say more). Please reconsider carefully whether Tester might just make the cut as a moderate? He needs all the help he can get (and so do we).

  4. RA March 11, 2012 at 9:06 am #

    How about Joe Lieberman?

  5. Steve B. June 1, 2012 at 7:29 pm #

    You are observing a phenomena in your post; but what do _you_ attribute the losses of these moderates to?