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The disappearance of Yankee Republicans and Southern Blue Dogs

Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush

Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush

Arnold Sachs/Keystone/CNP/Getty Images

Klug served in the House of Representatives from 1991 to 1999. He hosts the political podcast “Lost in the Middle: America’s Political Orphans.”

Two congressional districts will tell you all you need to know about how much American politics has shifted in recent years and, sadly, how the political middle has been squeezed.


Wrapping around a dramatic coastline, Kennebunkport, Maine, had been the ancestral home of the Bush family since the turn of the 20th century. George H.W. Bush grew up there as the quintessential Yankee Republican. Public service and good manners were built into his DNA. His father had been an investment banker and a senator from Connecticut.

Geographically, Hope, Ark., is a few thousand miles away, but economically and culturally it is a world away. Bill Clinton grew up with a single mother in the small, hardscrabble Southern town. The state was solidly Democratic, but with a conservative bent. Republicans were a curiosity.

A quick read of the “Almanac of American Politics” will quickly convince you that those two snapshots represent a bygone era.

Neither George Bush nor Bill Clinton could come close to winning his home county today. In 2020, Trump won Hempstead County, Ark., with 65 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, in Maine, Biden won Kennebunkport with the same share of the vote.

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Yet the important story is not what happened in those counties, but what has happened regionally. The moderates in both parties have been wiped out.

In 2010 Barack Obama could count on 71 Blue Dog Democrats to get his health care package passed. Today there are only 13 of them left in Congress and its leaders are not from Dixie but from Hawaii and New York.

There is not a single New England Republican in the House. And in the upcoming presidential election there are few battleground states in those two regions. New Hampshire is still unpredictable. Georgia and North Carolina are swing states.

If you look back at our history, those kinds of shifts are not uncommon.

“No matter what you do, as a political party you're going to make some portion of your coalition angry. Because we are a giant transcontinental nation, diverse in all sorts of ways, and there is no way to govern in a way that makes everyone happy,” says Sean Trende, editor of Real Clear Politics. “So one group comes into the coalition. It makes some other group in that coalition angry. They go to the other party. They're joining up makes some members of that party angry. And so, they leave. And it's just a story that goes on.”

How the Democrats swapped the headquarters of Walmart to the Republicans for a fleet of Maine lobstermen: The never-ending realignment of American politics by Scott Klug

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