At The Weekly Standard Jay Cost writes about what he describes as the “sneak it past the rubes” theory.
North Dakotans might recognize the tactic, and the names of a few of its former practitioners:
It seems that the Democrats have been developing a third model of representation of late: Call it the “sneak it past the rubes” theory. Under this approach, you pre-sent yourself to your constituents as an independent voice, not in hock to the national Democratic party, so as to get elected. Then the national party allows you generally to vote with your constituents, on the understanding that when the chips are down you will vote with the liberal leadership. Then you hope that the “rubes” back home can be sufficiently distracted by the “war on women” or some other phony issue that they’ll return you to office. And if they choose not to, there will be a consolation prize: a cushy, well-connected job as a lobbyist (Blanche Lincoln) or law firm adviser (Byron Dorgan) or association CEO (Ben Nelson) or strategic adviser in PR (Kent Conrad) in Washington, where you are more at home anyway, or even a job out of town as an ambassador (Max Baucus).
What happened with the North Dakotans in that list – former Senators Dorgan and Conrad – is that they helped the Democrat majority of 2009 push through Obamacare, then they both retired. The third member of North Dakota’s former Congressional delegation – the erstwhile “Team North Dakota” – was Earl Pomeroy. He voted for Obamacare and tried to get re-elected in 2010 only to lose the race by a solid 10 points.
He’s now a lobbyist with Alston & Bird.
North Dakota’s current Democrat Senator Heidi Heitkamp, who very narrowly held on to the seat Conrad had been holding in 2012, seems to be on the same career trajectory. She campaigned as an “independent voice,” as anyone who saw that term repeated ad nauseum in her television ads in 2012 knows, yet since getting elected to the Senate by a margin of less than 1 percent of the vote Heitkamp has been a loyal vote for President Obama’s agenda.
According to an analysis by National Journal, Senator Heitkamp voted with President Obama’s agenda 97 percent of the time. The same percentage as the very progressive Senator Elizabeth Warren, elected by very progressive voters in Massachusetts.
By contrast, fellow North Dakota Senator John Hoeven, a Republican, voted with President Obama only 43 percent of the time.
Heitkamp – much like Conrad, Dorgan and Pomeroy before her – is pretty far to the left of the North Dakota electorate, politically. But she portrays herself as further to the right as she really is. How long she stays in office, I think, will hinge on how long voters find that charade believable.