Kansas Congressman Kevin Yoder positioned himself as a conservative during the 2010 campaign. He's governing as one, as well. The freshman took a turn on the U.S. House floor last week to reel off some clichés about the "crisis" of government spending. (Why does the word "crisis" appear in quotes? Read this.)
But how long will he keep it up? Yoder represents a congressional district that's fairly moderate. And history shows that members of Congress who are out of step with their constituents tend to become ex-members of Congress.
Election forecaster Nate Silver has written an interesting piece about the conservatism of the 85 House Republicans who are new to Congress or mounted a return after an absence. Silver plotted a graph showing that a number of first-term Republicans are voting more conservatively than representatives of their districts might be expected to vote.
Yoder is part of the trend. One progressive scorekeeping system indicates that he's been more conservative than Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran, the two U.S. senators from Kansas, who are also Republicans. Yet Yoder's congressional district is the state's least partisan.
It should concern Yoder that members of Congress who stand apart from their districts are more likely to leave office against their will. Silver notes that representatives who were swept into office in 1994 and 2006 -- election years in which one party made significant gains -- had disproportionally short careers. (Nancy Boyda, the Kansas Democrat who was elected to the U.S. House in 2006 and defeated in 2008, is a prime example.) Silver explains:
The mistake that a lot of first-term members of Congress can make is to assume that electoral environment from which they were elected is one that will persist indefinitely. Most freshmen Representatives aren't likely to have developed particularly strong constituent services, or to have acquired positions of power within the Congress. These are the kinds of things that help a member get re-elected when the political environment becomes more challenging, as it inevitably will get sooner or later.The smart money says Yoder will make the necessary ideological calibrations to keep his seat. After all, if the former KU College Democrat knows anything, it's how to adapt.