Being a centrist is expensive

Running for Congress as a moderate Democrat is a costly endeavor.

Moderate Democrats who ran in last year’s midterm election spent more than double what their liberal colleagues spent, according to an analysis released Thursday by the Progressive Policy Institute.

They were also more likely to face well-financed challengers and an onslaught of outside spending. 

That trend is likely to continue in 2012.

“In fact, 2010 may turn out to be the ‘new normal’ of campaign politics,” writes Anne Kim, the author of the report and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, a center-left think tank in Washington.  “And as campaign spending increases, the burden will continue to fall more heavily on moderates.”

Kim compared 2010 election spending by Blue Dogs and New Democrats (the moderates of the Democratic Party) with spending by the Progressive Caucus (the liberal wing). 

Moderates spent an average of $3.3 million on their campaigns while liberals spent $1.6 million, Kim found.  

“There’s structural disadvantages that moderates have in trying to either win office or defend it,” Kim said in an interview.

Moderates often hold seats in districts that are considered competitive, which encourages the opposition – from candidates to allied outside groups – to pour money into a race.  Geography – many moderate districts are located in sprawling suburban areas – and campaign strategy are also factors that could make a race more expensive, Kim said. 

Outside groups, which spent nearly $200 million – up from $120 million in 2008, a presidential election year – were especially potent forces against moderate Democratic candidates in 2010. 

On average, moderate Democrats saw nearly $1.5 million in outside spending in their districts, compared with just $257,400 spent in liberal districts.

In New York's 25th district, for example, outside groups nearly matched the $760,000 that Republican challenger Ann Marie Buerkle spent to unseat Democratic incumbent Rep. Dan Maffei. 

“The outside groups tend to be fairly polarizing,” Kim said.  “There aren’t moderate outside groups supporting moderate candidates.”

Nationwide, 36% of Americans identify themselves as “moderate.”  Yet moderates make up roughly 18% of the House Democratic caucus and 14% of the House Republican caucus, Kim said.  Nearly half of the 100 members of who identified as Blue Dogs and/or New Democrats lost their reelection bids in 2010.

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