Can the (Democratic) Center Hold?

Photograph by Keith Srakocic/AP Photo

Rep. Jason Altmire through a window as he votes in the Pennsylvania primary on April 24, 2012 in McCandless, Pa.

The losses of Democratic Representatives Tim Holden and Jason Altmire in Pennsylvania primary elections yesterday will thin the ranks of Democrats who sometimes buck their party leadership on issues including fiscal policy and health care.

Here’s just one way of measuring how the Democratic center has shrunk: no more than eight of the 34 House Democrats who voted against President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul just 25 months ago will return to Congress next year.

In this group, Altmire and Holden were the first to be defeated for re-election in the primaries. Both lost after Republican legislators substantially revised their districts. Three other Democrats who opposed the health measure aren’t seeking re-election this year.

Half of the 34 Democrats lost re-election in November 2010, when the Republican upswing was so strong it swept out even those Democrats who brandished their ‘no’ vote as a sign of their political independence. Two others didn’t seek re-election in 2010 and another two lost races for other offices.

That leaves eight House Democrats who opposed the health law and are seeking re-election. Four are targets of Republicans in redistricting: John Barrow of Georgia, Larry Kissell and Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, and Jim Matheson of Utah.

Ben Chandler of Kentucky, who was re-elected last year by 647 votes out of about 239,000 cast, was strengthened by redistricting and is slightly favored to win a new term. Collin Peterson of Minnesota is more politically secure, even in a mostly rural and Republican-leaning district. Dan Lipinski of Illinois and Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts represent strongly Democratic districts.

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