Move to the middle?
From Washington, D.C., to Mesa County, politicians and candidates have offered encouraging signs of a move toward middle-of-the-road politics, just as the election season kicks off in earnest.
Hardly a coincidence. Republicans and Democrats are moderating their views to give themselves the broadest appeal to unaffiliated voters. But that’s something of a change. In recent election years, we’ve seen Republicans tilting more and more to the right as the party grappled with the influence of the tea party. By default, it made the Democratic Party appear more centrist.
But the fallout of Obamacare has Democrats defensively fighting labels of “liberalism” and “socialism,” and Republicans have taken calculated measures to exploit a political advantage.
That’s why congressional Republicans shook off a charge by the tea party wing to unconditionally lift the debt ceiling last month. When Congress gave final approval to raising the nation’s borrowing authority — without preconditions — Republicans avoided accusations of interference. Having suffered some political damage from a 16-day government shutdown last fall, GOP leaders assessed how a debt-ceiling fight could affect the mid-term elections. They decided to scrap that fight — and risk alienating the tea party element — to preserve a chance to hammer Democrats on Obamacare.
Yes, it’s political gamesmanship as usual. But it sets up a battle to be fought in the middle of the political spectrum — where the majority of voters reside — rather than incursions from the extremes.
A few recent moves in Colorado, we think, are good for voters. And it appears that the Republican Party — both nationally and locally — is making some shrewd lineup moves to grow rather than to appeal to its base.
Sensing some vulnerability in U.S. Sen. Mark Udall’s bid for re-election, Republicans pulled a double-switch. Ken Buck, who was favored to oppose Udall, is now running for Cory Gardner’s 4th Congressional District seat. Gardner will now vie to oppose Udall. Suddenly voters will have two viable candidates for Colorado’s U.S. Senate seat. We expect this campaign to more accurately reflect the political will of Colorado voters than a Udall-Buck contest. Gardner, a second-term congressman, has amassed a conservative voting record that will stand in contrast to Udall’s more progressive platform, but without the baggage of Buck’s churlish campaign rhetoric.
Similarly, voters are getting reasonable choices to fill state House District 54, now that Jared Wright has bowed out of the race. Republican Yeulin Willett is the odds-on favorite in a heavily Republican district. But voters will have more viable choices — a luxury they didn’t have the last time the seat was up for grabs. Independent candidate J.J. Fletcher and Democrat Brad Webb offer voters an alternative.
It will be interesting to see what course the GOP charts during this mid-term election. Will the tea party continue to steer the party further to the right? Or perhaps we’ll see a re-emergence of “Goldwater Republicans” — those who advocate fiscal responsibility, but with a near-libertarian stance on keeping government out of people’s lives. Events in Arizona may offer a hint. Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a bill that would have allowed businesses to discriminate against gays on religious grounds. It was a pragmatic decision driven by business interests that ran counter to the prevailing political currents in her state. But it shows how extremists can push issues and voters to the middle.