What will be the largest of the ideological caucuses in the new House Democratic majority?

Why, of course, it must be the “centrists” affiliated with the Democratic Leadership Council’s “New Democrat Coalition.” Yes, that’s got to be the case because all the commentators at the Wall Street Journal keep saying that centrists were the big winners on Tuesday.

Er, no.

Well, then, it must be the more conservative Democrats who identify themselves as “Blue Dogs.” Surely, that’s the answer because all the folks on Fox News keeping talking about them.

Nope.

The largest ideological caucus in the new House Democratic majority will be the Congressional Progressive Caucus, with a membership that includes New York’s Charles Rangel, Michigan’s John Conyers, Massachusetts’ Barney Frank and at least half the incoming chairs of House standing committees.

The caucus currently has 64 members — up 14 since last year — and its co-chairs, California Democrats Lynn Woolsey and Barbara Lee, say they expect that as many as eight incoming House Democrats will join the CPC. The number could actually go higher, as several candidates in undecided House races ran with strong progressive support. (The CPC worked with labor and progressive groups to assist a number of candidates in targeted races around the country this year, reflecting the more aggressive approach it has taken since the caucus was reorganized under the leadership of Lee and Woolsey and hired veteran labor and political organizer Bill Goold as a full-time staffer.)

The caucus will need an infusion of new members — not because those associated with it lost elections Tuesday but because they won. CPC members Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Sherrod Brown of Ohio will be leaving the House to become U.S. Senators. Interestingly, the two members of the “Blue Dog” caucus who ran for the Senate, Hawaii’s Ed Case and Tennessee’s Harold Ford, both lost.

Says Lee: “Some inside-the-Beltway commentators, columnists, and conservatives want the American people to believe that last Tuesday’s election results have especially empowered moderate-to-conservative elements within the House Democratic Caucus in the 110th Congress, but that is an incomplete picture of the new political landscape on Capitol Hill.”

She’s right. The convention wisdom may say that the new crop of House Democrats is conservative or centrist: Political Correspondent Gloria Borger: “the people coming in are going to be these moderate conservatives”; New York Times columnist David Brooks: “For the most part they exchanged moderate Republicans for conservative Democrats.”

But, as is so often the case, the conventional wisdom is wrong.

House winners like Jerry McNerney from California, Ed Perlmutter from Colorado, Bruce Braley from Iowa, John Sarbanes from Maryland, Keith Ellison from Minnesota, Carol Shear-Porter and Paul Hodes from New Hampshire, John Hall from New York, stood for election on platforms that echoed the commitment of the CPC to bring the troops home from Iraq, promote economic fairness, make elections more honest and government more ethical, and promote energy independence. Many of the new members of the House, including New York’s Yvette Clarke, won hotly-contested Democratic primaries by associating themselves with Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha’s advocacy of rapid withdrawal from Iraq.

Do the math. While the Blue Dogs are predicting that the membership of their caucus may grow from 37 to 44 members, and the New Democrats hope their membership will edge up from the mid-forties to over the 50 mark, the Progressives are looking at the prospect that their caucus — the most racially and regionally diverse ideological grouping in the Congress — could number more than 70 members once the new House is seated.

Forget the spin. Listen to Barbara Lee, whose habit of deviating from the conventional wisdom in order get things right is now well established, when she says of Tuesday’s election results, “It is important to recognize that this was not just a vote against George Bush and the Republican Congress, it was a vote for a Democratic agenda that is rooted in progressive values.”

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