Skip to main content


The recent series of skirmishes between Daily Kos and Third Way may have gotten members of the Beltway press salivating at first glance, as some of them would probably like to see a civil war within the Democratic Party's ranks to go with the one currently under way within the Republicans. The kerfuffle, however, really didn't turn out to be very dramatic: Third Way's straw man-filled depiction of a purity-obsessed netroots constantly warring against moderates was pretty easily rebutted—if only because of the illogic of their contention that 2004, when the centrists held more sway, was a golden era for Senate Democrats (despite the caucus owning a 49-seat minority instead of a 55-seat majority at that point).

Markos pointed out the site's past support for moderates like Mark Begich, Jim Webb, and Jon Tester. David Nir then bolstered that with analysis showing that Daily Kos endorsements actually skew to the right of the party's center of gravity, because the most competitive races tend to be in swingier districts or states, which thus tend to attract more moderate candidates.

But there's one more component to this analysis: Many of our other recent endorsees, like Elizabeth Warren, Chris Murphy, and Mazie Hirono—all elected to the Senate in 2012—have helped move that same center of gravity slightly more to the left. In other words, in the decade since the netroots became a viable force, we have gotten more Democrats (which is easily quantifiable, seeing as how 55 > 49).

But you can also quantify the fact that we've gotten better Democrats as well, at least in the Senate. Even just over the last election cycle, using candidate ideology scores, we can show that even in most seats where a Democrat replaced a Democrat, that switch moved the overall balance in a more progressive direction. (The House is a bit more of a mixed bag, which we'll discuss over the fold.)

This analysis is based on the DW-Nominate system, which is widely considered one of the best methods for aggregating votes to rate candidate ideologies. Most other aggregators use a 0-to-100 scale to rank members of Congress, which has the advantage of making more immediate, intuitive sense. These scores, though, are based on a cherry-picked selection of key votes. DW-Nominate, on the other hand incorporates literally every vote taken, and synthesizes how every member acts in relation to all other members current and past. In that way, they're designed to be generalizable between different years, and between House and Senate. You can see the DW-Nominate Senate and House scores at the links.

The output can be a little difficult to understand at first, ranging from -1 (most liberal) to 1 (most conservative), but if you look closely at individual members, you can start to see how they sort out. On the Democratic side, capital-P progressives (i.e. members of the Progressive caucus) usually have scores under -0.400, New Dems (the mostly suburban caucus clustered around the Democratic party's midpoint) generally fall between -0.400 and -0.200, and Blue Dogs hover between -0.200 and 0.

On the Republican side, the numbers have moved alarmingly to the right in recent years, but at this point in time, the remaining moderates tend to have scores between 0 and 0.500, the leadership-aligned establishment GOPers fall between 0.500 and 0.750, hardcore tea partiers and/or social conservatives fall between 0.750 and 1. (The few outlier Paulists manage to bend the walls of the continuum and end up with scores over 1!) So the important thing to remember is, whether you're looking at an individual person's score, or the net change between them, the lower number (or the more negative number) is better, from a progressive point of view.

Continue over the fold for a detailed look at our charts comparing recent changes in congressional membership—and how these changes have moved the needle to the left.

Let's turn first to the Senate. Rather than simply dumping every seat that changed hands between the 112th and 113th Congresses into one big chart, I've broken it down into four tables: (1) where a Democrat replaced a Republican; (2) where a Democrat replaced a Democrat; (3) where a Republican replaced a Democrat (which, thanks to a strong Democratic performance in 2012, only happened in one state); and (4) where a Republican replaced a Republican. Note that this includes not just the regularly-scheduled 2012 elections, but also special elections that ensued in the following year (as necessitated by the resignations of John Kerry, Jim DeMint, and John Ensign, and the death of Frank Lautenberg).

First, Democrats who replaced Republicans:

State Old Score New Score Diff.
MA Brown 0.097 Warren - 0.539 - 0.636
IN Lugar 0.239 Donnelly - 0.203 - 0.442
ME Snowe 0.042 King - 0.264 - 0.306
Avg. - 0.461

The biggest needle-jump in the Senate, as you probably expected, was the replacement of Scott Brown with Elizabeth Warren. Despite Brown being fairly moderate by Republican standards, Warren is situated on the Senate Democrats' left flank. Compare that with the Maine race, where the relatively moderate Olympia Snowe was replaced by the relatively moderate Angus King, leading to a smaller difference between their DW-Nominate compared to Brown and Warren.

On to Democrats who replaced other Democrats:

State Old Score New Score Diff.
CT Lieberman - 0.260 Murphy - 0.590 - 0.330
WI Kohl - 0.317 Baldwin - 0.522 - 0.205
MA Kerry - 0.414 Markey - 0.575 - 0.161
VA Webb - 0.208 Kaine - 0.323 - 0.115
HI Akaka - 0.464 Hirono - 0.578 - 0.114
NM Bingaman - 0.346 Heinrich - 0.356 - 0.010
ND Conrad - 0.297 Heitkamp - 0.302 - 0.005
NJ Lautenberg - 0.478 Booker - 0.451 + 0.027
Avg. - 0.114

You'll notice that replacing Joe Lieberman in Connecticut actually moved the needle further to the left than did the race in Maine, even though control of the seat stayed within the Democratic caucus. That's because freshman Chris Murphy has, in a pleasant surprise, racked up one of the most progressive records in the Senate, even slightly to the left of Warren. On top of that, you'll see that two other freshmen, Ed Markey and Mazie Hirono, also managed to edge out Warren in the standings (though their net change was smaller, since they replaced high-quality Democrats).

Surprisingly, every Senate seat but one that stayed within the Democratic caucus got more progressive (though, for instance, the shift from Kent Conrad to Heidi Heitkamp was barely perceptible). The one that didn't was the transition from Lautenberg to Cory Booker, but it's not as big a change as many people had feared: While Booker leans heavily on bipartisan rhetoric (no doubt with an eye toward the presidency some day), he's turned out so far to be a very reliable vote when it comes down to nuts and bolts.

Now Republicans who replaced Democrats:

State Old Score New Score Diff.
NE Nelson -0.037 Fischer 0.549 + 0.586

The one Democrat who was succeeded by a Republican, Ben Nelson, already had the most conservative score of any member of the Democratic caucus, so that somewhat lessens the impact of his departure.

And finally, Republicans who replaced other Republicans:

State Old Score New Score Diff.
NV Ensign 0.713 Heller 0.459 - 0.254
SC DeMint 0.936 Scott 0.780 - 0.156
AZ Kyl 0.553 Flake 0.429 - 0.124
TX Hutchinson 0.435 Cruz 0.961 + 0.526
Avg. + 0.002

In fact, somewhat parallel to Connecticut and Maine above, you'll notice that the Republicans moved the needle to the right almost as far in Texas as they did in Nebraska, even though the Texas seat stayed in Republican hands. That's thanks to Ted Cruz, currently with the third most conservative record in the Senate replacing Kay Bailey Hutchinson, who had the 10th least conservative record in the Senate in 2011-2012. On the other hand, the other Republican-to-Republican switches all wound up moving the needle to the left a little bit, with Dean Heller and Jeff Flake dialing their conservatism down slightly compared to their predecessors.

The House is trickier to talk about, since the 2012 election involved new district lines in most states. In most cases, there's a pretty clear sense of who replaced whom: The district lines stayed similar, and an incumbent either retired or lost. However, in a few states where the map was dramatically redrawn (Arizona, California, Florida, and Ohio in particular), there was enough shuffling around that it's often hard to say who succeeded whom.

My general approach, though, was to designate successors via the fewest number of steps possible. For instance, in California's Central Valley, if you were to go by geographic turf, you might argue that, because Dennis Cardoza retired and Jim Costa moved over to Cardoza's safer seat, that Cardoza was replaced by Costa and Costa's open seat was filled by Republican David Valadao. However, I'm just consolidating that into the path of least resistance: Cardoza was replaced by Valadao.

Similarly, in Palm Beach County, Florida, you could make the case that it was really Lois Frankel who replaced Allen West, who fled to a safer district further north that had been vacated by Tom Rooney, who got an even safer district newly created because of Florida's population growth ... which would mean that Patrick Murphy, who defeated West, replaced Rooney. However, I'm simply consolidating that down to Murphy replacing West, since that was the actual battle fought.

Again, we'll start with the races where Democrats replaced Republicans:

District Old Score New Score Diff.
IL-08 Walsh 0.999 Duckworth - 0.267 - 1.266
CA-41 Dreier 0.604 Takano - 0.482 - 1.086
MD-06 Bartlett 0.763 Delaney - 0.301 - 1.064
MN-08 Cravaack 0.595 Nolan - 0.447 - 1.042
OH-03 Austria 0.566 Beatty - 0.444 - 1.010
CA-52 Bilbray 0.844 Peters - 0.164 - 1.008
NH-02 Bass 0.696 Kuster - 0.308 - 1.004
AZ-09 Quayle 0.847 Sinema - 0.137 - 0.984
NH-01 Guinta 0.653 Shea-Porter - 0.331 - 0.984
CA-26 Gallegly 0.597 Brownley - 0.336 - 0.933
CA-36 Bono Mack 0.725 Ruiz - 0.206 - 0.931
NY-24 Buerkle 0.749 Maffei - 0.179 - 0.928
CA-07 Lungren 0.717 Bera - 0.207 - 0.924
IL-11 Biggert 0.664 Foster - 0.248 - 0.912
IL-17 Schilling 0.686 Bustos - 0.216 - 0.902
TX-23 Canseco 0.686 Gallego - 0.208 - 0.894
FL-18 West 0.708 Murphy - 0.165 - 0.873
NY-18 Hayworth 0.601 Maloney - 0.176 - 0.777
IL-10 Dold 0.556 Schneider - 0.199 - 0.755
FL-26 Rivera 0.387 Garcia - 0.177 - 0.564
Avg. - 0.942

You might remember back in 2012, in the run-up to the election, I engaged in a similar kind of analysis, offering suggestions as to where donors could contribute to help move the needle furthest from right to left. In that post, I proposed that one of the biggest difference makers could be the race in IL-08, where Tammy Duckworth was facing off against one of the House's loudest loudmouths, Joe Walsh.

That was pure speculation, since Duckworth had never held office before and therefore didn't have a DW-Nominate score I could use for comparison. But it turns out that guess was exactly right: Even though Duckworth is a bit right of the Dem caucus's midpoint, her win did move the needle the most, thanks to Walsh's position on the hard right flank of the GOP caucus.

Several other races featuring more progressive Democrats also are near the top of the list, like the unexpected comeback by long-ago ex-Rep. Rick Nolan in MN-08, or the emergence of Mark Takano in CA-41. (Dreier -> Takano is another very convoluted replacement, since they didn't oppose each other. David Dreier simply retired after getting the short end of the stick in redistricting, with the plurality of his constituents now represented by Gloria Negrete McLeod, while Takano's district has its roots in Ken Calvert's old district.)

Moving on to Democrats who replaced other Democrats:

District Old Score New Score Diff.
PA-17 Holden - 0.246 Cartwright - 0.471 - 0.225
CA-47 Richardson - 0.326 Lowenthal - 0.523 - 0.197
CA-35 Baca - 0.342 Negrete McLeod - 0.436 - 0.094
TX-16 Reyes - 0.321 O'Rourke - 0.404 - 0.083
NM-01 Heinrich - 0.272 Lujan Grisham - 0.353 - 0.081
WI-02 Baldwin - 0.551 Pocan - 0.625 - 0.074
TX-20 Gonzalez - 0.312 Castro - 0.383 - 0.071
CT-05 Murphy - 0.292 Esty - 0.352 - 0.060
NV-01 Berkley - 0.280 Titus - 0.318 - 0.038
CA-29 Berman - 0.336 Cardenas - 0.370 - 0.034
NY-06 Ackerman - 0.350 Meng - 0.362 - 0.012
WA-06 Dicks - 0.273 Kilmer - 0.281 - 0.008
NY-08 Towns - 0.464 Jeffries - 0.442 + 0.022
MA-04 Frank - 0.540 Kennedy - 0.472 + 0.068
NJ-10 Payne Sr. - 0.568 Payne Jr. - 0.490 + 0.078
WA-01 Inslee - 0.367 DelBene - 0.261 + 0.106
IL-02 Jackson - 0.515 Kelly - 0.407 + 0.108
IL-12 Costello - 0.400 Enyart - 0.292 + 0.108
CA-02 Woolsey - 0.653 Huffman - 0.460 + 0.193
HI-02 Hirono - 0.481 Gabbard - 0.276 + 0.205
CA-51 Filner - 0.630 Vargas - 0.404 + 0.226
CA-15 Stark - 0.703 Swalwell - 0.372 + 0.331
Avg. + 0.021

The Democrat -> Democrat chart in the House isn't as lopsided as the one in the Senate: Nearly as many races moved the needle a bit to the right as moved it to the left. The biggest success was the replacement of the Blue Doggish Tim Holden with progressive Matt Cartwright in PA-17, though that has GOP gerrymandering at its roots. The addition of Scranton to this once Republican-leaning rural district (in order to create a Democratic vote sink to bolster all the surrounding Republican seats) made it too blue a seat for Holden—who'd proven invulnerable to whatever the Republicans had thrown at him for two decades—to handle.

However, the loss of a trio of liberal lions in California (Lynne Woolsey to retirement, Bob Filner to the San Diego mayoral race, and Pete Stark to a surprising primary loss) moved the needle decidedly to the right in three solidly blue districts. In at least two of these cases, though, those replacements are something of a win-win anyway, as Filner and Stark revealed themselves to be terrible, terrible persons (Stark over the course of his campaign, and Filner once he was in office as mayor). This shift is somewhat mitigated by the replacement of the often ethically troubled Laura Richardson; she lost a primary mashup with Janice Hahn, but the bulk of her Long Beach-area district is now held by the much cleaner and much more liberal Al Lowenthal.

Tulsi Gabbard taking over for Mazie Hirono in Hawaii also looks like a bit of a disappointment. Although she's undeniably a rising star (and probably still preferable to Mufi Hannemann, whom she defeated in the primary), she seems to put her No Labels-type rhetoric a little more into practice than, say, Cory Booker.

And now to Republicans who replaced Democrats:

District Old Score New Score Diff.
IN-02 Donnelly - 0.108 Walorski 0.597 + 0.705
NY-27 Hochul - 0.223 Collins 0.527 + 0.750
OK-02 Boren - 0.080 Mullin 0.721 + 0.801
CA-21 Cardoza - 0.246 Valadao 0.598 + 0.844
NC-11 Shuler - 0.049 Meadows 0.814 + 0.863
KY-06 Chandler - 0.179 Barr 0.767 + 0.946
PA-12 Critz - 0.280 Rothfus 0.700 + 0.980
AR-04 Ross - 0.088 Cotton 0.954 + 1.042
NC-08 Kissell - 0.154 Hudson 0.967 + 1.121
NC-13 Miller - 0.361 Holding 0.890 + 1.251
Avg. + 0.930

The list of Democrats replaced by Republicans is notable in two ways. One, almost all of the Democrats on this list were very much from the conservative end of the caucus. Their defeats and retirements in 2012 almost represented unfinished business from the 2010 GOP wave, and these consecutive election cycles are  why the Blue Dogs have dwindled down to such a small part of the overall picture.

And two, it shows what a swath the Republicans managed to cut through North Carolina via redistricting. That gerrymander also accounts for the loss of the one Dem on the list who was putting up a somewhat progressive record: Brad Miller, who simply retired after going from a safely Dem to a safely GOP district, and who has been replaced by the seriously tea-flavored George Holding.

Finally, here are the Republicans who replaced other Republicans:

District Old Score New Score Diff.
TX-14 Paul 1.341 Weber 0.924 - 0.417
IL-13 Johnson 1.048 Davis 0.732 - 0.316
AZ-05 Flake 1.016 Salmon 0.821 - 0.195
IN-05 Burton 0.774 Brooks 0.644 - 0.130
ND-AL Berg 0.496 Cramer 0.420 - 0.076
CA-01 Herger 0.735 LaMalfa 0.680 - 0.055
IN-06 Pence 0.857 Messer 0.806 - 0.051
MO-02 Akin 0.773 Wagner 0.723 - 0.050
CA-08 Lewis 0.545 Cook 0.527 - 0.018
NC-09 Myrick 0.801 Pittenger 0.862 + 0.061
OH-02 Schmidt 0.704 Wenstrup 0.779 + 0.075
OH-14 LaTourette 0.428 Joyce 0.508 + 0.080
SC-01 Scott 0.883 Sanford 0.968 + 0.085
FL-06 Adams 0.810 DeSantis 0.913 + 0.103
FL-03 Stearns 0.839 Yoho 0.946 + 0.107
FL-19 Mack 0.832 Radel 0.950 + 0.118
MT-AL Rehberg 0.504 Daines 0.712 + 0.208
OK-01 Sullivan 0.716 Bridenstine 0.982 + 0.266
MI-11 McCotter 0.655 Bentivolio 0.936 + 0.281
PA-04 Platts 0.519 Perry 0.812 + 0.293
MO-08 Emerson 0.419 Smith 0.830 + 0.411
KY-04 Davis 0.542 Massie 0.999 + 0.457
Avg. + 0.056

The list of Republicans replacing Republicans also has some surprises, in that it shows a more nuanced picture of their party, rather than the expected stereotype of a nonstop march to the right. Even here, there are nearly as many replacements where the needle moved left as to the right. In particular, you can see a big shift to the left with the replacement of Ron Paul with a more conventional tea party type, Randy Weber. However, that's equally counterbalanced at the other end with the replacement of an establishment Republican in Kentucky with Thomas Massie, a Paul ally.

(As an aside, this points to the always-puzzling question about vote aggregation and how to consider purity-motivated outliers: Other aggregators, who use only selected votes instead of a Bayesian dragnet, tend to view Paulists as moderates, seeing as how they occasionally vote with the Democrats, albeit for the wrong reasons.)

Lastly, there's one more interesting phenomenon to call to your attention, based on a very small sample: the recent tendency for House members to become more liberal when they move to the Senate. That's probably most dramatically on display with Chris Murphy, who amassed a rather New Dem-ish record in the House while representing Connecticut's swingiest House district. (In fact, while progressives had many concerns in 2012 about his kinda-centrist replacement, Elizabeth Esty, she's racked up a slightly better record in the House.) But on jumping to the Senate (where he now represents a much bluer constituency, in the form of the whole state), Murphy's suddenly one of the most progressive Senators of all, very reminiscent of Kirsten Gillibrand's turnaround after her promotion in New York.

But that same shift has happened to a lesser extent with most of the other Dems who got promoted (Hirono, Heinrich, and even Joe Donnelly), with only Tammy Baldwin moving to the right (and only very slightly so, considering that Wisconsin as a whole is much swingier than her former dark blue district). It even happened with Republican Jeff Flake, who was one of the most conservative members of the House, but who has repositioned himself as a fairly moderate senator, probably in anticipation of Arizona becoming swingier in coming years as its demographics change.

This may also have to do with who's in charge, though: Democrats control the agenda in the Senate, and the fact that the mundane housekeeping bills that dominate the chamber are sponsored by Democrats may help move the overall bulk of everyone's votes to the left, unlike in the GOP-controlled House. If the Republicans do manage to take control of the Senate in 2014, we'll have to see if everybody's numbers in the Senate shift to the right accordingly.

For now, though, progressives can know that on the whole, we don't just have more Democrats in the Senate, we have better ones.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Elections on Sun Mar 30, 2014 at 12:59 PM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site