Extremists in both parties have put a stranglehold on Congress at the expense of the country's well being, the endangered Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) charged Tuesday.
Matheson, a member of the Blue Dog Democrats who is at risk of losing his seat on Tuesday, suggested the leftward shift of his own party, combined with the Tea Party's conservative influence over Republicans, has conspired to discourage the bipartisan cooperation required to tackle the nation's troubles.
"The extreme elements of both parties are a problem, there's no question about it," Matheson said Tuesday on CNN's "Newsroom" program. "There are too many people on the extremes of both sides. If we're ever going to get something done, you have to draw some common ground, be constructive."
Matheson faces an uphill battle for a seventh term against Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love, who is vying to become the first black Republican woman elected to Congress. She led Matheson by seven points in the final poll of the race released Tuesday by the Salt Lake Tribune.
The Democratic lawmaker jabbed his opponent Tuesday, maintaining there’s a "core group" of lawmakers from both parties who are willing to cross the aisle for the sake of getting things done — and Love wouldn't be among them.
"We do not need another person in the Utah delegation that will go back and just walk the party line. That's not how you get things done."
Matheson suggested the media have encouraged the growing polarization on Capitol Hill by spotlighting controversial ideologues above centrist problem solvers.
"I know it's better to be an extremist, better to be on the cable channels if you scream from an extreme standpoint — that maybe helps," he said. "But for the more pragmatic approach, that might not be as exciting on TV, but that's how you make good policy."
The remark prompted CNN's Suzanne Malveaux to offer a light-hearted defense of the network.
"We prefer to talk to moderates as well," she said to laughter.
Matheson's own Blue Dog Democrats — who tend to cross the aisle on fiscal issues — saw their numbers cut in half in the GOP wave of 2010. And with the looming retirement of Blue Dog Reps. Dan Boren (Okla.), Mike Ross (Ark.) and Heath Shuler (N.C.) — combined with the exit of Reps. Jason Altmire (Pa.) and Tim Holden (Pa.), who lost primary bids — the group’s ranks are expected to shrink substantially again next year.
Meanwhile, the retirement of centrist Republican Reps. Steven LaTourette (Ohio) and Tim Johnson (Ill.) — combined with the expected reelection of most of the Tea Party freshmen — means that next year's House Republican Conference will likely be more conservative.
"The number of moderate Republicans and Democrats has decreased over the last three elections," Matheson said. "We have to turn that around. That's what America wants. Ultimately, I think the political system will respond to that."