Math doesn’t add up in progressives’ complaints against Udall

The overly cautious press statements and stiff senatorial demeanor of newly ensconced U.S. Sen. Mark Udall (and, by extension, his more politically mysterious Democratic colleague Sen. Michael Bennet) have some liberals in a real lather.

But an interesting analysis of President Barack Obama’s own growing problems within his political left flank in The Atlantic Thursday examines the real political calculus that appears to be driving Udall and the inartfully dubbed “conservadems” to moderate their tone.

Atlantic Media Co. political director (and former chief staff writer for Ralph Nader) Ronald Brownstein writes:

The bottom line is that, compared to Republicans, Democrats are operating with a much more diverse electoral coalition — and one in which the party’s ideological vanguard plays a smaller role. That’s one reason why in a Pew post-election survey, nearly three-fifths of Democrats said they wanted the party to move in a more moderate (rather than liberal) direction, while three-fifths of Republicans said they wanted the party to move right. The parties “have a difference in our bases,” says Jim Kessler, vice president of Third Way, a group that works with centrist Democratic Senators. “Certainly the most loyal part of the Democratic base is going to be self-identified liberals, but numerically moderates are a bigger portion of the coalition, so there is going to be some tension.”

As Kessler notes, the Democratic coalition tilts even slightly further toward moderates in swing states and districts. In the Democrats’ North Carolina and Colorado Senate victories last November self-identified liberals provided only 31% of the vote for both Kay Hagan and Mark Udall respectively; in Alaska, liberals provided just 29% of Mark Begich’s votes. That pattern is especially important because Democrats today hold so many more swing seats in Congress than Republicans: 22 of the 58 Senate Democrats, for instance, were elected by states that voted both times for President Bush. (By contrast, just 3 of the 41 Senate Republicans were elected by states that voted both times against President Bush.) [Emphasis mine]

Despite what the insufferably strident “national syndicated columnist” David Sirota may contend, Udall — and likely Bennet too — represent a state in which only a third of his voters (not all voters) identify as liberal.

Would I prefer that all politicians take a clear stand and articulate their positions without hesitation? Absolutely. Is it maddening that Udall has forsaken the halcyon days as a more accessible congressman from a reliably, safe liberal district? Unequivocally, yes.

But to disregard the principled need to represent all Coloradans and the very real calculus of electoral politics as if Udall — whose House voting record is as moderate as Rep. John Salazar — and Bennet can operate like über-liberal Sen. Patty Murray of Colorado belies common sense.

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