House's Republican centrists hope to provide 'balance'
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
The week before Rep. Charles Bass lost his seat in 2006, the leader of the House GOP's moderate wing complained that it was simply "a terrible year to be running for reelection."
"I am the same candidate I was two years ago, four years ago, six years ago," Bass told a group of business leaders in New Hampshire. "I know my constituents, and they know me."
Those constituents still knew Bass last November, when they voted to give him back his former seat, part of a nationwide wave that saw Republicans recapture old districts while also adding new territory to the red column.
For all the ink spilled on the success of the conservative-leaning tea parties and their chosen candidates, the winners last Election Day included a host of centrist GOP lawmakers like Bass, the former president of the moderate Republican Main Street Partnership whose grandfather helped start the progressive Republican movement a century ago.
"There's a misperception" that the new Republicans in Congress are all conservative and all political neophytes, Bass said in a recent interview. "To say that the freshman class is a 'tea party class' I think oversimplifies the unique qualifications of a lot of these members."
Bass notes that many freshmen are experienced politicians like him. But how many are moderates?
The answer to that question could become clearer this week, when the Tuesday Group - the House GOP's centrist coalition - has its first meeting of the 112th Congress. (Despite its name, the group is meeting Wednesday this week because most lawmakers won't arrive in town until Tuesday evening.)
Rep. Charlie Dent (Pa.), a co-chair of the Tuesday Group, said at least 10 freshmen had indicated that they were interested in joining, and overall he predicted that between 30 and 50 Republicans would attend the meeting.
"We're a center-right group," Dent said. "Some are closer to the center, some are closer to the right. . . . This is a center-right country, and we need to govern that way."
While much of the House Republican Conference - and the chamber's leadership - is conservative, Dent said the Tuesday Group could "help provide some perspective and balance."
The key to keeping moderates in office, centrist lawmakers said, will be for the leadership to recognize that every district is different and to refrain from forcing lawmakers from tough districts into votes they can't defend back home. Many moderate and conservative Democrats who lost in 2010 believe that their own leaders made exactly that mistake.
Moderates are "clearly the minority of the majority," said Rep. Steven C. LaTourette (Ohio), a Tuesday Group member. "But there is also a recognition that without" the centrist lawmakers, Republicans wouldn't have a majority.