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Group for centrist Democrats runs out of money. Does it matter?

The moderate Democratic Leadership Council suspends operations. Liberals rejoice, others say the DLC succeeded in moving the party to the middle.

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On Capitol Hill, the ranks of the moderates have thinned in recent elections. The resignation of centrist Rep. Jane Harman (D) of California, to become president of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars here in Washington, means the departure of yet another centrist “Blue Dog” Democrat from the House. The Blue Dogs have gone from 54 members in the last Congress to 25 now. Republican moderates have taken a similar beating, either through retirement or election losses.

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But that hollowing out of the center on Capitol Hill is more a sign of the continuing polarization of Congress, not that there’s no possibility of action in the center – especially when the president and congressional leadership want to go there. In addition, notes Third Way co-founder Matt Bennett, a lot of the centrist Democrats who lost last fall held seats that were in traditionally Republican areas.

Mr. Bennett speaks charitably of the DLC’s accomplishments, noting that the group helped develop Clinton’s brand of welfare reform and his approach to free trade.

“They were enormously influential for 2-1/2 decades,” says Bennett. “They really had a huge impact on the way the country is governed and, more immediately, on the way the Democratic Party operates. So the end of that is not insignificant.”

Some liberals are crowing over the demise of the DLC. They argue that the group made some critical mistakes in positioning, including its backing of the Iraq War and support for Sen. Joe Lieberman (I) of Connecticut in the 2004 Democratic presidential primary.

But just as likely, analysts say, the DLC simply wrote themselves out of a job.

“It was a great platform for Bill Clinton; it probably helped him get elected president,” says William Klein, a Democratic publicist in Silver Spring, Md. “But that was a long time ago. Since then, it’s just a group that nobody’s thought about too much. You could say, more charitably, that they won the revolution. The Democratic Party moved to the center.”

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