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Democrats' 'big tent' faces challenges from conservative members

Newly elected moderate and conservative Democrats helped the party build a ‘big tent’ majority in the House. But those very same members – worrying about 2010 elections – are threatening Democrats' majority on major votes.

Pelosi: Speaker’s ‘majority makers’ now challenge Democrats’ plans.

Yuri Gripas/Reuters

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House Democrats fought their way back to power in 2006 and expanded their majority in 2008 by recruiting candidates who could win in conservative districts – a strategy that’s coming back to bite them as they try to move a sweeping legislative agenda.

The “majority makers,” as Speaker Nancy Pelosi dubbed them, fit the moderate-to-conservative districts they aimed to win. They railed on big government, spending, and taxes. Some challenged the merits of government regulation, called for more limits on abortion rights, opposed any softening of illegal immigration policy, or appeared in photos toting rifles.

Now, with legacy bills for Democrats on the line, many are voting that way. On issues ranging from healthcare and climate change to social issues, the “majority makers” often find themselves challenging the very majority they helped to create.

At the same time, big bills on healthcare, climate change, and Wall Street regulation could spell the demise of Democrats’ majority in the 2010 elections, if conservative Democrats lose for voting outside the comfort zones of their districts. The influence of these Democrats in shaping key legislation is leading some traditional Democratic constituencies – such as consumer watchdogs – to express dismay over what's emerging from bill-crafting House committees.

“What these votes do is form an overall impression in voters’ minds on whether these members are too liberal for the district. I see these as tone-setting issues for 2010,” says David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report in Washington.

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