- The Washington Times - Monday, December 25, 2006

The Democratic presidential lineup tilted more to the left when former Virginia governor Mark Warner and Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh dropped out of the race for the 2008 nomination, party strategists say.

Both men were prominent advocates for a centrist Democratic agenda on national security and domestic policies. Their withdrawal from a dozen declared and potential candidates left behind a field of almost all liberal contenders for an office Democrats have won in only five out of the last 14 presidential elections.

The result “could mean a more left-leaning field” of Democrats heading into the 2008 primary contests that will allow liberal candidates to use the rhetoric of moderation without embracing centrist policies themselves, said former Democratic congressman Tim Penny of Minnesota.

“If you don’t have a genuine moderate in the race, it allows liberal candidates to put on the mask of moderation, because there’s no certified moderate to compare their rhetoric to reality,” said Mr. Penny, a party strategist and a senior fellow at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota.

Mr. Warner, a pro-business Democrat who was hawkish on defense issues, and Mr. Bayh, who served two terms as governor in a heavily Republican state and has chaired the centrist-leaning Democratic Leadership Council, found little support for their brand of politics in a party of liberal superstars such as Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, the early front-runner, and Barack Obama of Illinois, who is running just behind her in the polls.

“Without them in the race, it leaves us without diversity on the campaign trail. That also leaves us in a circumstance where the remaining candidates will be more liberal than the mainstream voters and will not be challenged as aggressively as if Bayh or Warner were in the race,” Mr. Penny said.

Democratic campaign strategist and pollster Alan Secrest said their withdrawal “probably does leave the field somewhat more liberal, at least at first glance, than was the case before their departure.” But he adds, “I don’t think it’s fair to say they left the race having concluded that a centrist cannot win.”

However, another Democratic campaign adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that “the conservative nature of the American electorate has not changed.”

“It’s still relatively conservative. People like Obama and Clinton know where the boundaries are in the electorate.”

But other Democrats, including a key party centrist group, say that most of the contenders, with some exceptions, aren’t liberal at all.

“With the exception of [Ohio Rep. Dennis J.] Kucinich and [former North Carolina Sen.] John Edwards,” there is really very little daylight between the leading candidates when it comes to policies,” said Matt Bennett of the Third Way, a centrist Democratic advocacy group.

“All of them are reasonably moderate and understand quite clearly that the way Democrats must govern is through a coalition of self-identified liberals and moderates,” he said. “So they are moderates both by instinct and political necessity.”

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