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Herseth Sandlin Goes to War as New Blue Dog Voice

“That’s what a good legislator does — she speaks truth to power and she doesn’t shy away from that,” said Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.), who represents Blue Dogs in leadership meetings. “It’s never easy to stand up to the Speaker and the Majority Leader,” he said. “You have to learn to get your sea legs, and she has learned that role.”

Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson praised Herseth Sandlin as “a breath of fresh air” and said that although they sometimes disagree, she’s still looking for ways to get something done.

“She’s not a ‘just say no’ person. She’s looking for a third way,” the Connecticut lawmaker said. “That’s been her M.O. since she got here.”

Herseth Sandlin has floated alternatives, such as giving states the option of getting an upfront cash infusion for Medicaid or other programs but have the money eventually come out of state aid in the future when the economy presumably will be better.

She faces a potentially tough race back home for a fifth term, and she’s widely seen as potentially running at some point for governor or Senator. Her votes against a slew of Democratic priorities — from the health care bill to this week’s stand-alone bill extending unemployment benefits — have frustrated some Democrats behind the scenes, in part because it undercuts the party’s attack line that Republicans are callously putting deficits above the needs of millions of unemployed Americans.

Herseth Sandlin’s new influence tracks with an internal shift in the Blue Dogs’ leadership structure. Tanner’s retirement leads a mini-exodus of Blue Dog veterans, along with Reps. Marion Berry (Ark.), Bart Gordon (Tenn.) and Dennis Moore (Kan.), leaving the group in need of fresh blood.

Herseth Sandlin said she’s humbled by the support of her Blue Dog colleagues and is ready to step up. She said that her son, 18-month-old Zachary, has made her even more committed to the Blue Dog cause.

“Having a baby puts a whole new perspective on things and grounds you even more, and I feel emboldened in the work that I’m doing to try and force the tough decisions that aren’t always going to always be popular decisions, that at times have strained my relationships with my supporters back home or my colleagues,” she said. “I feel the same anxiety that I think my constituents do, for fear that my child’s generation is going to not be as well off, or to struggle in ways that my generation didn’t, and we just can’t continue business as usual here in Washington.”

Tory Newmyer contributed to this report.

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