The Blue Dog Democratic Coalition is a group of 51 moderate and conservative Democratic Party members of the United States House of Representatives. The Blue Dogs promote, among other things, fiscal conservatism and accountability. Many members come from conservative districts, where liberal Democrats comprise a decided minority of the general population. In 2006, Blue Dog candidates such as Heath Shuler and Brad Ellsworth were elected in conservative-leaning districts, ending years of Republican dominance in these areas.
The Blue Dogs are the political descendants of a now defunct Southern Democratic group known as the Boll Weevils, who played a critical role in the early 1980s by supporting President Ronald Reagan's tax cut plan. The Boll weevils, in turn, may be considered the descendants of the "states' rights" Democrats of the 1940s through '60s.
"Blue Dog Democrat" is derived from the term "Yellow Dog Democrat." Former Texas Democratic Rep. Pete Geren is credited for coining the term, explaining that the members had been "choked blue" by "extreme" Democrats from the left. The term is also a reference to the "Blue Dog" paintings of Cajun artist George Rodrigue of Lafayette, Louisiana. The original members of the coalition would regularly meet in the offices of Louisiana representatives Billy Tauzin and Jimmy Hayes, both of whom had Rodrigue's paintings on their walls. Tauzin and Hayes later switched to the Republican Party. The Blue Dog Coalition was formed in 1994 during the 104th Congress to give more conservative members from the Democratic party a unified voice.
The coalition was notably successful in a special election of February 2004 in Kentucky to fill a vacant seat in the House of Representatives. They were also successful in the November 2004 elections, when three of the five races in which a Democrat won a formerly Republican House seat were won by Blue Dogs. Freshman Blue Dogs in the House are sometimes nicknamed "Blue Pups."
In 2005, the members of the Blue Dog Coalition voted 32 to 4 in favor of the bill to limit access to bankruptcy protection (S 256).
The Blue Dog Coalition is often involved in finding a compromise between liberal and conservative positions. The Blue Dogs are viewed by some as a continuation of the socially conservative wing of the Democratic party prominent during the presidency of Harry S. Truman However, the only stated policy position of the Blue Dogs is fiscal conservatism, and many of the members of the coalition hold liberal views on social issues such as abortion, stem-cell research, and gay rights.
Despite the Blue Dogs' differing degrees of economic and social conservatism, they generally work to promote positions within the House of Representatives that bridge the gap between center-right and left-wing politics. Blue Dogs are an important swing vote on spending bills and as a result have gained influence in Congress out of proportion to their numbers. They are frequently sought after to broker compromises between the Democratic and Republican leadership, generally lending a more conservative character to US politics.
Differences with the New Democrat CoalitionEdit
Members of the New Democrat Coalition, an affiliate of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), take moderate or liberal positions on social issues and moderate positions on economic issues and trade. The DLC aims to revitalize and strengthen the Democratic party, while the Blue Dogs emphasize bipartisanship.
Democrats who identify with the Blue Dogs tend to be conservatives, but have more divergent positions on social issues than "New Democrats." Reflecting the group's Southern roots, many Blue Dogs are strong supporters of gun rights and receive high ratings from the National Rifle Association, some have anti-abortion voting records, and some get high ratings from immigration reduction groups. As a caucus, however, the group has never agreed on or taken a position on these issues, and many members favor more socially liberal positions.
On economic issues, Blue Dogs tend to be pro-business and favor limiting public welfare spending, arguing instead for "individual responsibility". They have supported welfare reform as well as the Republican-backed Bankruptcy Reform Act of 2005. They have differing positions on trade issues, and include supporters of labor unions, protectionism, and other populist measures. New Democrats tend to favor free trade.
Some moderate or conservative Democrats, such as Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, are members of both the Blue Dog Coalition and the New Democrat Coalition.
Differences with the left Wing of the Democratic PartyEdit
Some in the Democratic Party's liberal wing promote primary challenges against Blue Dog Coalition members in an effort to unseat Democratic Party members they view as unreliable or too conservative. The editors of the left-wing weblog OpenLeft refer to Blue Dog Democrats who voted for war funding in May 2007 and voted to grant the Executive branch warrantless wiretapping powers as "Bush Dogs".
Some progressive activists view the Blue Dogs as an important part of a Democratic Party big tent coalition. Prominent Blue Dogs have received strong support from liberal activists within the party, most notably Brad Carson of Oklahoma in his unsuccessful 2004 run for the U.S. Senate, John Tanner of Tennessee, Jim Matheson of Utah, and Loretta Sanchez of California in her successful bid to unseat former Congressman Bob Dornan. Online fundraising efforts by liberal weblogs in 2004 named Carson's campaign a top national priority.