Why it's hard to be a moderate in Congress

As Congress becomes increasingly divided, there's a "centrist premium" for candidates wanting to stay moderate, says Republic 3.0 Editor Anne Kim.

Kim, a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, told MPR News' Tom Crann that Congress doesn't reflect the makeup of the American electorate because moderate voters aren't participating in the primary process. That means a minority of the party is selecting a more partisan candidate to head into general elections.

"It really is tough to be a moderate member," she said. "On the one hand in the primary process you're getting it from your own party who thinks maybe you're not far left enough. The irony is that most of the money is on the far left or the far right... Every candidate seems to have a billionaire that's entered the race, but there is no moderate billionaire who's backing moderate candidates. So moderates need to spend themselves first in the primary against challenges coming from their own base. If they make it to the general election, they're spending off the opponents' money and whatever Super PACs are pulling money in from the right."

Moderate candidates end up spending a lot of money to stay in a race too, she said.

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From Kim's piece in the Washington Post:

In 2014, for example, direct spending by members of the moderate New Democrat and Blue Dog coalitions averaged $2.01 million per campaign, according to an analysis of data derived from OpenSecrets.org, the site of the Center for Responsive Politics. In contrast, members of the liberal Progressive Caucus each spent an average of $1.07 million on their races.

This disparity is even more extreme -- greater than 3 to 1 -- when all campaign spending is included. Counting spending by opponents and outside groups, the average campaign in a New Democrat or Blue Dog district cost $5.2 million in 2014, compared with an average of $1.57 million in Progressive Caucus districts.

In order for this to change, Kim suggested a couple solutions: End gerrymandering district procedures, campaign finance reform and urging more moderates to vote and become active in the political process.