JohnBarrowThe Daily Kos has an interesting take on the conservative “Blue Dog Caucus” in the Democratic party (you can check it out here).  It also got me thinking about the future of the Caucus and its recent past (which has been anything but kind).  Indeed, one has to go back to 2009 to see the Caucus in its heyday.  Since then it has all been downhill.

After Democratic successes in 2006 and 2008 the Caucus was composed of 54 members representing red to purple districts across the country.  Not all of them were truly conservative.  Many of the younger members who represented purplish seats were really moderates or liberals using the Caucus to showcase their fiscal bonafides.  The legislative sessions of 2009 and 2010 were not kind to the Caucus.  The passage of PPACA, the Stimulus, Financial Reform and Cap and Trade hurt Southern members the most.  The sluggish economy devastated members in purple districts.  Even as Democrats gained seats in 2012 (predominately in blue states due to redistricting) the Caucus lost more of its members.

From 2009-2013 the Caucus shrank from 54 to 16 members today (I list them at the end of this article).  It is an irony that many of the members who lost reelection voted AGAINST many of the liberal initiatives their more progressive Caucus members supported.  Consider the numbers below which show just how few Blue Dog members remain that voted against many progressive initiatives.

  • Obamacare: Just four of the original 34 Dem “no” votes (Barrow, Lipinski, Lynch, Peterson).
  • Stimulus Package: Two of the 11 (Cooper, Peterson).
  • Cap and Trade: Seven of the 44 (Barrow, Costa, DeFazio, Foster, Kirkpatrick, Rahall, Visclosky).
  • Financial Reform: Five of 27 (Cuellar, Kirkpatrick, Kaptur, Schrader, Visclosky).
  • Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: Two of 15 (Peterson, Rahall).
  • DREAM ACT: Nine of 38 (Barrow, Higgins, Kaptur, Lipinski, Owens, Peterson, Rahall, Schrader, Visclosky).
  • Stupak Amendment: Fourteen of a disappointingly high 64 at the time (Barrow, Bishop (GA), Cooper, Costa, Cuellar, Doyle, Kaptur, Langevin, Lipinski, Lynch, Neal, Peterson, Rahall, Ryan)

Many of the Democrats that made up the Blue Dog Caucus are truly gone.  The brand they represented has disappeared and the voters they once courted are now largely of the non-trusting Democratic types.  In other words these seats are largely out of play for Democrats and that makes any future road to the majority trickier.  If you look at it from the perspective of a liberal you might realize that being represented by a conservative Democrat is a lot, lot better than a conservative Republican.

The Blue Dogs that are likely to replace older, more conservative members are likely to be younger, minorities and women.  They are also likely to be much less conservative meaning in truth the “New Blue Dog” Caucus is likely to be only a centrist to left leaning Caucus, a far cry from the “old” Blue Dog Caucus.  Consider that as of this writing four new members have joined the Caucus; Barber, Bustos, Rahall, and Sinema. Barber and Sinema are both from swing Arizona districts but far from conservative on many issues.  Bustos represents a left leaning Chicago suburb.  Short of Rahall, a longstanding WV Democratic Congressman, these members are likely to move the Caucus leftward going forward.

If you are a progressive you might cheer this shift.  However, if you are a Democratic strategist you are likely ringing your hands the way many GOP counterparts have been doing the last few years because of battles between the establishment and Tea Party.  Much as the GOP is still learning it is hard to win with far right candidates in swing districts and states Democrats running progressives in many old Blue Dog districts (keep in mind this is after redistricting) are not likely to meet with much success.

Of course this situation is not just unique to the Blue Dog Caucus or the Democratic Party.  Rather, since 2006 the GOP has shed many of its more moderate members in the House and Senate through retirements and defeats.  This cycle the GOP is losing moderate Frank Wolf (VA), Tom Latham (IA) and Jon Runyan (NJ) as well as Jim Gerlach (PA) furthering a trend that is likely to push the GOP to the right.  The inevitable result is individual Caucuses within the GOP are becoming ever more conservative.

Whether the Blue Dog Caucus remains a viable entity within the party remains to be seen.  With fewer members and a likely more liberal bent the Caucus is less likely to push for modifications to legislation and establish its own brand.  As a result, the “New” Blue Dog Caucus will replace the “Old” and the old will be just another footnote in American electoral history.

Blue Dog Caucus Membership: 113th Congress: Note both Matheson and McIntyre are retiring this cycle and many old-time Blue Dogs such as Peterson face tough reelection battles.

Rep. Ron Barber (AZ-02)
Rep. John Barrow (GA-12):
Rep. Sanford Bishop (GA-02)

Rep. Cheri Bustos (IL-17)
Rep. Jim Cooper (TN-05)
Rep. Jim Costa (CA-16)
Rep. Henry Cuellar (TX-28)
Rep. Pete Gallego (TX-23)
Rep. Daniel Lipinksi (IL-03)
Rep. Jim Matheson (UT-04):
Rep. Mike McIntyre (NC-07):
Rep. Mike Michaud (ME-02)
Rep. Collin Peterson (MN-07)
Rep. Nick Rahall (WV-03)
Rep. Loretta Sanchez (CA-46)
Rep. Kurt Schrader (OR-05):
Rep. David Scott (GA-13)
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-09)
Rep. Mike Thompson (CA-05)

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