Virginia Gov. Mark Warner wants to take the national Democratic Party back to the political center where it enjoyed success in the 1990s.
A Shenandoah Valley political analyst, for his part, isn’t so sure that is the right course of action for the party’s future.
“The center in American politics has shifted in recent years to the point where it is well to the right of what it was in 1990 or even 1980. So for Democrats to say that they need to move to the center is to effectively say that they need to move to the right. Because that’s where the center is now,” Bridgewater College professor David McQuilkin said.
“If you’re trying to offer yourself as an alternative to the party currently in power, and your alternative is to move to the center, given what moving to the center means in this day and age, you’re really not offering an alternative at all,” McQuilkin told The Augusta Free Press.
Warner told the AFP last weekend during a visit to Harrisonburg to attend a fund-raiser for 26th House District Democratic Party nominee Lowell Fulk that most people are “tired of the extremes on their left and the extremes on the right.”
“I have made clear that I want to be one of the voices that tries to move the Democratic Party back to the center,” said Warner, who is considering a run at the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican George Allen that is up for grabs next year and who has been mentioned as an early favorite for the 2008 Democratic Party presidential nomination.
“I think if the Democrats continue to go after only 16 or 17 states, it’s crazy,” Warner said. “I think not only do Democrats do our party a disservice, but we do the country a disservice.
“Two competitive parties in 50 states means the country is going to move back to the center. If you have states that are solidly Democratic or solidly Republican, it allows the more extreme wings of the party to have a bigger voice,” Warner said.
McQuilkin said the benefit to moving the Democratic Party to the center would appear to be to try to appeal to conservative voters.
“The risk for Democrats, clearly, is being viewed as the party that is basically without a message other than ‘me, too.’ Candidates stuck with that ‘me, too’ label are generally left on the outside looking in,” McQuilkin said.
“If Democrats want to be successful, they need to rebuild their party base. And a considerable number of people are waiting for this to happen,” McQuilkin said. “They want a real alternative to the Republican Party, not Republican Lite. Democrats are so focused on running to the center for the short-term gain of winning elections that they don’t see their base eroding.”
Warner noted that the current chairman of the Democratic National Committee – former presidential-nomination candidate Howard Dean – is doing a good job of “revving up the activists.”
“But where I think the opportunity exists for Democrats right now is as you see the national Republican Party, particularly the far-right wing, move further to the right, and you suddenly see this requirement of these new litmus tests, whether it’s the Terri Schiavo case, or whether it’s the new requirement of let’s not be for stem-cell research. I think it leaves a lot of moderate Republicans and independents looking for a new home,” Warner said.
“If there’s an opening there, it means the Democrats need to prepare an alternative that is fiscally conservative, that is focusing on issues like education and how we provide adequate transportation, how we make our communities safe, how we make sure that we maintain America’s strongest-in-the-world national military. That’s where I think Democrats ought to focus,” Warner said.