WASHINGTON -- Joining a caucus with like-minded colleagues is a typical ritual for House freshmen, a chance to form alliances with lawmakers in similar wings of their respective parties.
But it's not for everyone. A handful of freshman Democrats have opted not to join any of the party's ideological groups: the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, and the centrist New Democrat Coalition.
And for some, that's a point of pride.
Asked at a Democratic women's event last week how she decides when to side with President Donald Trump, Rep. Abby Finkenauer said her northeast Iowa district comes first. To prove her point, she noted that she hasn't joined any of the three caucuses.
"I am an Iowa Democrat," Finkenauer said.
Five other Democratic freshmen have taken similar stances, with most of them from competitive districts like Finkenauer. They include Jared Golden of Maine, Lauren Underwood of Illinois, TJ Cox of California, Jahana Hayes of Connecticut and Donna E. Shalala of Florida.
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Avoiding these groups makes it more difficult to quickly gauge where the lawmakers land on the Democratic Party spectrum. And they could also be missing out on the camaraderie and campaign help the caucuses offer.
But members like Finkenauer don't see many benefits to joining, especially when they don't align with all of the groups' viewpoints.
"I don't fit into a box," Finkenauer said in an interview Tuesday. "I wasn't elected here to be put in one. ... I listened to the folks in my district, and those are the interests that I represent."
For some of these members, stressing their independence is critical for their re-elections. They have to balance energizing base Democrats with appealing to more moderate voters and Republicans. One way to showcase that is by steering clear of ideological groups.