Blue Dog Democrats are a group of 47 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 districts. In 2008, the Blue Dogs' prominence as a voting block was highlighted by their support for a FISA compromise that provided immunity to large telecom companies who had been accused of assisting the government in capturing communication involving US citizens.
"Blue Dog Democrat" is playfully derived from the original term Yellow Dog Democrat. It was former Texas Democratic Rep. Pete Geren who said that the members had been "choked blue" by those "extreme" Democrats, from the left. Thus, he is credited for coining the term Blue Dog Democrat.
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 (and both of whom later switched to the Republican Party).
The Blue Dogs are descendants of a 1950s 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 Senate has its own version of the Blue Dogs, the New Democrat Coalition, which took shape in 1999.
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 Blue Dogs are viewed by some as a continuation of the socially conservative wing of the Democratic party prominent during the presidencies of Harry S Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson. 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.
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.
The group is often involved in finding a compromise between liberal and conservative positions. 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 Democratic Party and Republican Party extremes. 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.
The differences between the Blue Dogs and the coalition of moderate Democrats, the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), are sometimes subtle. The DLC describes itself as new Democrat, taking moderate or liberal positions on social issues and moderate positions on economic issues and trade. The DLC views the support of free trade as a traditionally liberal position , and similarly frames their support of an aggressive national defense as historically a Democratic Party position . The two emphasize different goals; the DLC aims to revitalize and strengthen the Democratic party, while the Blue Dogs prefer to emphasize bipartisanship.
Democrats who identify with the Blue Dogs tend to be conservatives, but have more divergent positions on social issues than the DLC. Reflecting the group's Southern roots, many are strong supporters of gun rights and receive high ratings from the National Rifle Association, some have pro-life 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, for example, as well as the Republican-backed Bankruptcy Reform Act of 2005. However, they have differing positions on trade issues, including some supporters of labor unions, protectionism, and other populist measures, while the DLC tends to favor free trade.
However, it can not always be argued that there is conflict or a clear distinction between Blue Dog Coalition and the DLC aims, since some moderate or conservative Democrats are in fact members of both groups (for example, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona).
On the other hand, some prominent Blue Dogs have also 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 (whose Republican opponent in 2004, James L. Hart, was a eugenics advocate denounced by his own party), 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. In some cases this support for Blue Dogs came about because the Republican opponent (former Representative, now Senator Tom Coburn) was seen as holding strong right-wing views; in other cases the support is because in some states like Tennessee, Oklahoma, the Dakotas, and Utah, a conservative Democrat is seen as the only kind of Democrat who can be viable at the polls. Some progressive activists also view the Blue Dogs as an important part of a Democratic Party big tent coalition, which will give the party important credibility with rural voters and social conservatives, while viewing the Blue Dogs as perhaps easier to swing to the left on fiscal and trade issues than the DLC.
Others in the party's liberal wing disagree, and have promoted the idea of running future primary challenges against both Blue Dog Coalition and DLC members in an effort to unseat Democratic Party members they view as unreliable or too conservative. The editors of the liberal weblog OpenLeft have christened the Blue Dog Democrats as "Bush Dogs" and have begun a campaign to identify Bush Dogs (so defined as those Democrats who voted for war funding in May 2007 and voted to grant President George W. Bush warrantless wiretapping powers) and evaluate whether a primary challenge is feasible.
In 2007, 15 Blue Dog Coalition Members in safe seats refused to contribute party dues to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. An additional 16 Blue Dogs have not paid any money to the DCCC but were exempt from party-mandated contributions because they are top GOP targets for defeat in 2008. The stated reason for the party dues boycott are remarks made by Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) encouraging leaders of anti-war groups to field primary challenges to any Democrat who does not vote to end the Iraq War. Woolsey later stated that she was misunderstood, but the Blue Dogs have continued with the boycott. Donations to party Congressional Committees are an important source of funding for the party committees, permitting millions of dollars to be funneled back into close races.
Former members of Congress who were once prominent Blue Dog Coalition members include: