Since this is a beat that I usually follow, I’m posting a little something about the Blue Dogs. As we know, the 2010 elections severely depleted the numbers of conservative Democrats in Congress, and this cycle did so again. It’s looking like about fifteen Blue Dogs are going to be in Congress next year, maybe a few more if some of the incoming freshmen decide to join up, but probably not much more. The end is definitely drawing near. Still, it’s worth spending a moment reflecting on why this group used to be powerful. Aside from their numbers, the clout the Blue Dogs had came from a claim–not inherently implausible–that their group was the one group that was able to really hold onto bipartisan support. There was some basis for this–after all, the 2009-2010 session included quite a few Democrats from very Republican districts. Gene Taylor and Chet Edwards both represented R+20 districts. Arkansas had three of four Democrats in its House delegation, Tennessee five of nine. Democrats held House seats in solid-red states like Kansas, Oklahoma, and the Dakotas. This added up to a lot of Democrats accountable to Republican electorates, and many of these Democrats were of long seniority, seeming as if they weren’t mere flashes in the pan.

This was somewhat remarkable, but it turns out that it had little to do with political philosophy, and everything to do with inertia and incumbency. Pretty much all these guys got wiped out in 2010, and what remains are essentially conventional Democrats whose iconoclasm is held in check by the fact they represent districts that could send liberal Democrats to Congress. Mike Thompson identifies as a Blue Dog, but the district he currently represents could easily send a Nancy Pelosi-style liberal to Congress (he literally represents Humboldt County! i.e. Marijuana central), so Thompson has to avoid moving too far to the right lest he draw a tough challenger. This is true of virtually every current Blue Dog. The likelihood that Jim Cooper of Tennessee or Mike Michaud of Maine be replaced by someone to the right of them is astronomical, Cooper represents pretty much the last progressive seat in the state and Maine is a blue state. Sure, there are a few of the old-school Blue Dogs left, like Jim Matheson and John Barrow, but the former was most likely saved by having a last name that is golden with voters of his state (and both are exceptionally good campaigners). Rather than being a body whose electoral incentives pulled them to the right of the Democratic consensus–and who could throw down a “take it or leave it” challenge if they didn’t like how, say, health care reform was looking–the current Blue Dog configuration is a bunch of people whose electoral incentives are not to get too far to the right lest they lose primaries in more Democratic districts. It’s difficult to imagine, for example, David Scott of Georgia telling President Obama to shove his health care plan and then going back to his African-American district and that going really super-well for him. And for someone like Thompson or Jim Costa, going too far off the reservation means the fun wouldn’t end with a primary–because of the “top two” system that makes the top two vote-getters in the primary the general election candidates regardless of party, the fun wouldn’t end in June. Since Barrow is presumed likely to run either for Senate or Governor of Georgia in 2014, we’re looking less at an independent, center-rightish Democratic faction and more at a “Jim Matheson and a bunch of intramurally-vulnerable Democrats” faction. In any event, the influence of this group is pretty much done.

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