Over the last forty years, Members of Congress (MCs) have polarized in their legisla- tive behavior, while representing relatively centrist electorates. This lack of anchoring by median preferences highlights a central puzzle: How do polarized candidates run and win elections based on legislative records that are increasingly ‘out of step’ with their districts? Existing research points to two potential sources: a changing balance of electoral forces fa- voring partisan voters and ‘shirking’ by policy-motivated MCs. In this paper, I study forty years of position-taking in congressional elections to assess these competing accounts. In particular, I scale the issue statements aired in 12,692 House and Senate ads from 1968 to 2008, using cosponsorship bill titles to link words in ads to the same dimension of ideo- logical conflict in Congress, and replicate this analysis using ads from the 2008 election. Overall, I find that candidates consistently present themselves as moderates, while portray- ing their opponents as extremists through a process of issue distancing. I find consistent evidence that this distancing may help candidates win votes, by mitigating the fallout from their partisanship. This finding provides additional support for the elite-driven account of a representational disconnect in American politics, suggesting fundamental limits to the ability of voters to hold their representatives accountable in contemporary elections.