When Maine Senator Susan Collins (R) announced her support for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, it triggered a torrent of criticism. However, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin (D) was also heavily criticized when he announced his support for Justice Kavanaugh just minutes after Senator Collins. Critics quickly jumped on Manchin’s record of voting with President Trump 61% of the time as well as his opposition to abortion rights and greenhouse gas restrictions. Some even suggested that he should officially identify as a Republican. Still, it is vitally important to embrace centrist policies and politicians if the Democrats are ever going to take back legislative control.  

Often, the vital role moderate and conservative Democrats play in Democratic legislative control is severely overlooked. In today’s political climate, there are many states that, due to the demographics of their populations, consistently vote Republican such as West Virginia and the Dakotas. These states do not have the progressive base to call upon like other red states such as Georgia and Pennsylvania, which have large urban centers with large numbers of young and minority voters.

The demographics of states like West Virginia have made it difficult for Democrats to do well.  As the population is largely composed of blue-collar Caucasians, there is no large progressive base to appeal to. While some cite the fact that Democrats, including the legendary Robert Byrd, once controlled West Virginia’s Senate seats, this was due to the fact that West Virginia was reliably Democratic in the mid 1900s, when these Senators were elected. Now that West Virginia has shifted to the right considerably, it is almost impossible for a liberal Democrat to win statewide office. Only a conservative Democrat like Joe Manchin could win an election as a Democrat in this reliably red state.

In addition, this policy of courting centrist Democrats has been successful before. When Democrats had a House and Senate Majority from 2006-2010, they did so on the back of an ingenious plan by current Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel. He reasoned that it would be better to have a large variety of Democrats with varying views rather than a Republican majority, so he and the DNC started funding so called “conservative” Democrats. These included congressmen like former Senator Ben Nelson, a pro-life, fiscally conservative politician who was nevertheless a Democrat. Winning these seats led the Democrats to a congressional majority that allowed them to pass laws such as the Affordable Care Act and exercise committee and subpoena power. In the current administration, the power to subpoena will prove more important than ever with the ongoing Russia investigation. The Republican victories in the House and Senate in 2016 were in part based on the fact that many conservative Democrats in states like North Dakota and Arkansas lost their seats.

However, it does look as if centrism is slowly but surely being embraced by the mainstream Democratic Party. In Montana, Jon Tester, a pro-gun Democrat, was able to defeat his Republican challenger. Similarly, Joe Manchin was reelected by a margin of 3.2%. While two seats might not seem like much, they could be the difference between a majority and a minority in the Senate in 2020 or 2022. Centrism may seem like a strategy politicians use to appease their base, but it is vitally important for future prospects of Democratic legislative control.