The conservative wave that hit Congress two weeks ago swept a disproportionate number of conservative and centrist Democrats out of office, with only 25 out of 54 members of the fiscally-conservative Blue Dog Coalition winning reelection. Among the coalition’s casualties were two of its leaders: Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin of South Dakota and Rep. Baron Hill of Indiana.
Before the midterms, Blue Dogs comprised 20 percent of House Democrats. Now they make up just 13 percent—which means that the diminished Democratic caucus will be far more liberal on average than it was before the elections.
Blue Dogs come from all over the United States and tend to represent swing states. Their name is a play on the South’s “yellow-dog Democrats,” who were supposedly prepared to vote for a “yellow dog,” so long as it was a Democrat. The group chose the moniker ‘Blue Dogs’ after the last major Democratic defeat in 1994. The idea was to inoculate themselves against their party’s liberal image, which they felt endangered their chances of winning in largely conservative districts. The group gained increased power in 2008 when constituents voted more of them into office.
Some progressive commentators have speculated that conservative Blue Dogs doomed the party when they blocked liberals in Congress from passing more liberal legislation and delivering on President Obama’s promises. Many Blue Dogs opposed stimulus spending and health care reform. In the end, some liberal observers contend, voters rejected the party for its lack of progressive daring.
However, former Texas Rep. Charlie Stenholm, who cofounded the coalition 15 years ago, has argued that the Blue Dogs got caught up in a dramatic repudiation of the party.
Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson of Utah for one was not surprised by the results, but fears potential consequences. He has said that a lack of moderate voices, there is the potential to intensify the political polarization of the House, eventually leading to legislative gridlock and increased partisanship.
On the flip side, House leaders could see the election as a sign that voters are tired of Congress not working together and more than willing to vote out whichever party is in control.
Matheson says the remaining Blue Dogs are willing to negotiate with the Republican Party, specifically on issues pertaining to the budget and spending.
Carmen Singleton is an intern at C&E.