Centrist Republicans pin their political hopes on the class of ’10

Centrist Republicans pin their political hopes on the class of ’10

Centrist Republicans in the Senate are hopeful that victories in the November election will swell their ranks, reduce conservatives’ influence and make it easier to defy GOP leaders.

Much attention is focused on the likely election of conservatives such as Rand PaulRand PaulJohnson becomes fourth GOP senator unwilling to proceed on healthcare bill Five takeaways from the CBO score on Senate ObamaCare bill Overnight Healthcare: CBO score imperils ObamaCare repeal | Breaking down the numbers | WH hits back over score | Trump phones holdouts | Dems plan floor protest MORE in Kentucky and Mike LeeMike LeeFive takeaways from the CBO score on Senate ObamaCare bill Overnight Healthcare: CBO score imperils ObamaCare repeal | Breaking down the numbers | WH hits back over score | Trump phones holdouts | Dems plan floor protest New CBO analysis imperils GOP ObamaCare repeal MORE in Utah, and possibly Sharron Angle in Nevada and Marco RubioMarco RubioRubio: 'I hope' Mexican elections won't end partnership against cartels Election hacking fears turn heat on Homeland Security Will Republicans stand up to the NRA's insurrection rhetoric? MORE in Florida.

ADVERTISEMENT
But if centrists such as Reps. Mike Castle (Del.) and Mark KirkMark KirkGOP senator defends funding Planned Parenthood Why Qatar Is a problem for Washington Taking the easy layup: Why brain cancer patients depend on it MORE (Ill.) win their races, it might soften the influence of conservatives in the 112th Congress.

 Congressional experts and lawmakers say a strong class of centrists could blunt the influence of conservative freshmen sent to Washington by Tea Party voters.

Senate Republican centrists have become a rare breed; Democrats find themselves repeatedly turning to the same small group of Republicans to help them pass bills.

 Centrist Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Susan CollinsSusan CollinsJohnson becomes fourth GOP senator unwilling to proceed on healthcare bill Five takeaways from the CBO score on Senate ObamaCare bill Overnight Healthcare: CBO score imperils ObamaCare repeal | Breaking down the numbers | WH hits back over score | Trump phones holdouts | Dems plan floor protest MORE (R-Maine), Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamGOP senator: Don't expect Trump to 'have your back' on healthcare vote Five takeaways from the CBO score on Senate ObamaCare bill New CBO analysis imperils GOP ObamaCare repeal MORE (R-S.C.) and Scott Brown (R-Mass.) have often been subjected to intense scrutiny and pressure as the votes that can make or break President Obama’s agenda.

 Democrats have expressed frustration that they have not been able to pick off Snowe or Collins to pass more legislation, but lawmakers say it’s tougher for the two to buck their party without more support from fellow centrist Republicans.

 Centrist Republicans used to hold lunch meetings every Wednesday — earning the nickname “The Wednesday Club.” It was the counterpart to the conservative Republican Steering Committee weekly lunches, now hosted by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.).

 But the Wednesday Club doesn’t exist anymore as a centrist Republican policy forum. It switched its meeting time to Thursday and usually includes a broad swath of the conference.

 Things could change next year if the bloc of centrist Republicans grows significantly.

 Castle in Delaware, Kirk in Illinois, businesswoman Carly Fiorina in California, Gov. Charlie Crist in Florida and Gov. John HoevenJohn HoevenThe Hill's Whip List: Senate ObamaCare repeal bill GOP considers keeping ObamaCare taxes Senators want governors involved in health talks MORE in North Dakota have a good chance of capturing Senate seats. All, except Crist, would replace Democrats. (Crist is running as an Independent, but he was elected governor as a Republican. He has not said which party he will caucus with if he’s elected.)

 “Any time you have moderates from either side of the aisle working together and have enough moderates, we’re going to be able to deal effectively with extreme positions that are often included in legislation,” said Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who helped bring Snowe and Collins along to support a $787 billion economic stimulus bill last year.

 It was one of the few major bills to pass this Congress with bipartisan support.

 Democrats had so few potential negotiating partners, they turned to the same GOP lawmaker, Graham, to attempt to forge a compromise on climate and energy reform and immigration reform. It was telling that only one Republican was willing to negotiate on two of Obama’s leading initiatives.

“The goal of anybody who wants to solve a problem is to create some momentum for other people to join in,” said Graham, who added that centrists such as Castle and Kirk would be more likely to join bipartisan talks.

 Castle and Kirk, for example, were helpful allies to Democrats after they captured control of the House in 2006.

ADVERTISEMENT
They both voted for several proposals of the legislative agenda Democrats campaigned on to oust Republicans from power. In January of 2007, they voted to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission; to increase the federal minimum wage to $7.25 an hour; and to repeal tax cuts to oil companies and mandate they pay fees for removing oil from the Gulf of Mexico.

 They also voted in 2007 for a measure opposing President George W. Bush’s plan to increase troops in Iraq, and sponsored a $35 billion expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

 Senate Republicans, weary of life in the minority, are too excited about Castle, Kirk and other centrists winning Democratic seats to quibble about their records. Republicans would need to win 10 seats in order to capture the majority.

 A review of Castle’s campaign fundraising records shows he has received thousands of dollars in contributions from conservatives such as Sens. Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellGOP senator: Don't expect Trump to 'have your back' on healthcare vote Senate Dems step up protests ahead of ObamaCare repeal vote Johnson becomes fourth GOP senator unwilling to proceed on healthcare bill MORE (R-Ky.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleySenate Dems plan floor protest ahead of ObamaCare repeal vote It's time for Republicans to play offense while Democrats are weak A bipartisan consensus against 'big pharma' is growing in Congress MORE (R-Iowa), Mike JohannsMike JohannsLobbying World To buy a Swiss company, ChemChina must pass through Washington Republican senator vows to block nominees over ObamaCare co-ops MORE (R-Neb.), Orrin HatchOrrin HatchIndustry 'surprised' by DOJ appeal in data warrant case US, South Korea can bury the trade barrier hatchet this week Time to get Trump’s new antitrust cop on the beat MORE (R-Utah) and Saxby ChamblissSaxby ChamblissOPINION: Left-wing politics will be the demise of the Democratic Party GOP hopefuls crowd Georgia special race Democrats go for broke in race for Tom Price's seat MORE (R-Ga.).

 Darrell West, the director of governance studies at the Brookings Institute, said Castle, Kirk, Fiorina and Crist could embolden centrists such as Snowe and Collins by joining the chamber.

 “It creates the possibility of coalition-building, and that’s very difficult right now,” said West. “There is safety in numbers if you have a larger group [of centrists]. It creates some political cover for people to talk to Democrats.”

 West said there are so few centrists in the Senate that it makes it easier for Republican leaders to keep their members in line.

 “Historically, there were more moderates in the Senate and people were more willing to cross party lines,” he said. “There was more bipartisan sponsorship of legislation.”

 Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.), an Independent who caucuses with Democrats, agrees with that analysis.

 “The more moderates there are here in both parties, the more of a bridge there is, the more of a potential to build a bridge between both parties,” said Lieberman, who added that it has been difficult for Snowe and Collins to do that because there are so few Republican centrists.

 “It puts them under a lot of pressure,” he said.

 McConnell has had a standing policy this Congress that any lawmaker who plans to strike a deal with Democrats must first explain his or her reasons to the entire GOP conference. This subtle form of peer pressure has proven remarkably effective in keeping Senate Republicans unified against Obama’s agenda.

 A senior Republican aide said it would be “interesting” to be present at the first GOP conference meetings where Castle, Kirk, Paul and Lee discuss their visions for the chamber.