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 PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulHouse bill set to reignite debate on warrantless surveillance Authorizing military force is necessary, but insufficient GOP feuds with outside group over analysis of tax framework MORE in Kentucky and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeWhatever you think the Alabama special election means, you’re probably wrong How the effort to replace ObamaCare failed Overnight Regulation: Trump temporarily lifts Jones Act for Puerto Rico | Bill would exempt some banks from Dodd-Frank | Senators unveil driverless car bill MORE in Utah, and possibly Sharron Angle in Nevada and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Defense: Tillerson, Trump deny report of rift | Tillerson says he never considered resigning | Trump expresses 'total confidence' in secretary | Rubio asks Army to kick out West Point grad Rubio asks Army to kick out West Point grad with pro-communist posts GOP establishment doubts Bannon’s primary powers MORE in Florida.

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But if centrists such as Reps. Mike Castle (Del.) and Mark KirkMark KirkGiffords, Scalise highlight party differences on guns Stale, misguided, divisive: minimum wage can't win elections Immigration critics find their champion in Trump 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 Margaret CollinsGun proposal picks up GOP support Giffords, Scalise highlight party differences on guns Agricultural trade demands investment in MAP and FMD MORE (R-Maine), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamDurbin: I had 'nothing to do' with Curbelo snub Republicans jockey for position on immigration Overnight Health Care: House passes 20-week abortion ban | GOP gives ground over ObamaCare fix | Price exit sets off speculation over replacement 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 Henry HoevenThe Hill's Whip List: Republicans try again on ObamaCare repeal Air Force One is Trump’s new boardroom Overnight Finance: Trump strikes debt, spending deal with Dems | Deal shocks GOP | Fed’s No. 2 to resign | Trump keeps tax squeeze on red state Dems | House aims to pass budget next week 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.

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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 McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGun proposal picks up GOP support Children’s health-care bill faces new obstacles Dems see Trump as potential ally on gun reform MORE (R-Ky.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyRepublicans jockey for position on immigration House clears bill to combat crimes against elderly Grassley: DACA deal wouldn't need border wall funding MORE (R-Iowa), Mike JohannsMike JohannsFarmers, tax incentives can ease the pain of a smaller farm bill Lobbying World To buy a Swiss company, ChemChina must pass through Washington MORE (R-Neb.), Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchGOP eyes limits on investor tax break Children’s health-care bill faces new obstacles Overnight Finance: White House requests B for disaster relief | Ex-Equifax chief grilled over stock sales | House panel approves B for border wall | Tax plan puts swing-state Republicans in tough spot MORE (R-Utah) and Saxby ChamblissSaxby ChamblissLobbying World Former GOP senator: Let Dems engage on healthcare bill OPINION: Left-wing politics will be the demise of the Democratic Party 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.