The fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition is headed for a major transition after the November elections, with the retirement of key founding member Rep. John Tanner (D-Tenn.) and many of the group’s remaining members under siege.
“We don’t know what the leadership positions will be like, because we don’t know the outcome of the election,” said Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), a senior Blue Dog who said the group could conceivably lose half of its 54 members in a Republican wave.
With Tanner’s absence, the role of elder statesman appears likely to fall to Rep. Allen Boyd (D-Fla.), who is respected for his political, policy and fundraising chops among the Blue Dog rank and file. Boyd is also close to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who has long courted the group, formed by centrist Democrats in the aftermath of the 1994 Republican takeover.
Senior Democratic aides also point to Rep. Jim Matheson (Utah), the lead spokesman for the group and someone expected to win re-election, as a rising star, along with Rep. Heath Shuler (N.C.), the Blue Dog whip, and Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (S.D.), the co-chairwoman for administration who faces a stiff challenge this cycle.
“I think Boyd and Tanner are already co-senior statesmen, and then there is everyone else,” one senior aide said.
The aide predicted that Matheson, who led an effort before the break to extend the Bush-era tax cuts, will join Boyd at the head of the pack if he wants it.
“He is head and shoulders above anyone else in political skill and intellect,” the aide said. “Matheson just needs to decide if he wants to put his focus into doing it.”
While Boyd has been quietly notifying Members of his desire to lead the group next year, he already has the support of Blue Dog alumni such as former Rep. Jim Turner (D-Texas).
“Certainly Allen’s been a leader for years, a very strong leader in that group,” said Turner, a co-founder of the caucus.
With his departure, Tanner is vacating his post as chief deputy whip of the Democratic Caucus, and Boyd may be angling for that spot in the 112th Congress, assuming he is re-elected.
“I know the Blue Dogs will lay a claim to that spot,” said a lobbyist with ties to the group.
But the lobbyist said many prominent Blue Dogs, including Boyd and Shuler, are preoccupied with their races rather than climbing the ladder.
“A lot of the people who are rising leaders in the caucus are really having to focus on their re-elections,” the lobbyist said.
“There is some pre-baked bread already when it comes to the vision of who the leadership ought to be,” a second lobbyist with Blue Dog ties said. “There are a variation of slates ... but depending on who wins and loses, the bigger question there is, does the establishment within the Blue Dogs prevail in putting forth their chosen leaders, or does somebody like Jim Cooper or [Rep.] Lincoln Davis [D-Tenn.] rise up?”
Cooper, who often pushes his own policy agenda, said he’s content to stay focused on policy rather than politics and fundraising.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.