In 2006 and 2008 the Blue Dog Caucus was the leading Caucus for conservative to moderate Democrats. Their numbers swelled to over 50 members before Election 2010. Now the Blue Dog Caucus is a shadow of its former self and has seen seven of its remaining members either announcing they will retire in 2012, have already retired or are running for higher office. Enter the New Democratic Coalition.
This Coalition of moderate to liberal members of the Democratic Caucus saw increased influence during the Clinton administration. But until recently the New Democratic Coalition had its members ideas and goals nixed (just like the Blue Dog Caucus) in favor of the much larger and more powerful Progressive Caucus.
With the Blue Dog Caucus reeling and losing influence combined with the number of vulnerable GOP incumbents in at least a dozen suburban districts the New Democratic Coalition sees room to expand. The Coalition has started to fire up its political arm and is currently assessing races they should target. Already the Coalition and its PAC have endorsed several candidates. These endorsements include Ami Bera in California, Brad Schneider in Illinois, Rob Garagiola in Maryland, Denny Heck in Washington, Paul Hirschbiel in Virginia, Christie Vilsack in Iowa and Jamie Wall in Wisconsin as well as former Reps. Bill Foster (Ill.) and Dan Maffei (N.Y.)
Many Democrats who belong to the Coalition sit in swing moderate/liberal leaning districts such as Gerry Connelly in VA and its leader Joe Crowley in New York. Of the candidates the Coalition has endorsed many are running in these kinds of districts.
The Coalition does not have an easy path to expand its membership however. Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (Texas), is retiring. Two, Reps. Shelley Berkley (Nev.) and Christopher Murphy (Conn.), are running for Senate, and one, Rep. Jay Inslee (Wash.), is running for governor. The head of its PAC, Rep. Jason Altimire (D-PA) has been drawn into a district with Blue Dog Mark Critz. And they have to win many of the swing races they are targting.
Yet the Coalition and its PAC are aided by the fact that many of its leadership members sit in leadership positions in the DCCC. Rep. Joe Crowley serves as the DCCC’s chairman of finance, Rep. Allyson Schwartz (Pa.) leads DCCC efforts on recruitment and candidate services, Rep. Jim Himes (Conn.) leads the DCCC’s Frontline operation, while Rep. Jared Polis (Colo.) is chairman of the DCCC’s Red to Blue program. This gives the Coalition more access to resources and more impact on policy.
Of the current seats the New Democratic Coalition are targeting all fall under the Red to Blue Program’s target list. This further suggests that Crowley and New Democratic leadership are teaming up with the party to combine their resources to win these swing seats. If the Democratic Party does hit the 25 seat number they need to retake the House it will likely largely be because of the New Democratic Coalition’ efforts.
But even if the New Democratic Coalition does gain membership unlike the Blue Dog Caucus it is less likely to be ideologically cohesive. The Blue Dog Caucus was made up of largely conservative Democrats in conservative, rural districts with a smattering of moderate, suburban Democrats mixed in. The New Democratic Coalition includes members such as Altamire, who represents a conservative, rural SW Pennsylvania district and moderates like Connelly in VA and liberals like Crowley in NY. This could make it harder for the Coalition after 2012 and beyond to come up with Caucus policy ideas and goals.
The Caucus could also find it hard to recruit some of the few remaining Blue Dogs after 2012. Not only will Republicans pick up many of those districts but those surviving conservative Democratic members may be afraid to join a larger Caucus that is further to the left then they are.
The New Democratic Coalition has the potential to be a much greater force in Democratic politics for the forseeable future. But they have to win swing races, come up with policy goals amidst an ideologically and regionally diverse Caucus, and recruit new members to their ranks. The Coalition can become a mover and shaker in Democratic circles, but to do it they have to overcome many challenges.