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Blue Dog Power Moves Downtown

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“The problem is, we’re not having a real argument on the deficit; we’re arguing about 12 percent of the deficit,” the Minnesota Democrat said. “I’m not willing to play that game if it’s not real.”

Peterson said he is counseling the next generation of Blue Dogs, who have not been in the minority before, to “settle down, calm down.”

But there have already been strong undercurrents within parts of the coalition to buck Democratic leadership. Rep. Heath Shuler (N.C.), a Blue Dog co-chairman, ran against Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) for Minority Leader at the beginning of the year, and Rep. Mike Ross (Ark.), another co-chairman, indicated in February that coalition members were considering voting for the Republican stopgap spending measure over the objections of Democratic leaders. Cardoza, who served as an unofficial liaison for moderates, including Blue Dogs, has publicly criticized Pelosi for not inviting him back to leadership meetings this year.

Stenholm acknowledged that all Blue Dogs don’t think alike. “They’ve been unable to find a consensus,” he said.

And that may not be anything new.

The original group of Blue Dogs, who came together after the 1994 elections swept Republicans into power, had fewer than 20 Members and even that small posse didn’t always agree.

“We didn’t always see issues the same way,” Cramer said. “Charlie Stenholm and I didn’t always want to take the same approach, but finally I think the consensus of the group prevailed.”

In 1995, the Blue Dogs supported welfare reform and could tell Democratic leaders, “Don’t mess with us,” Cramer said. Similarly, sitting Blue Dogs may have to fight the Obama administration on some issues. “They’ll need to be that clear,” Cramer urged.

The nearly 30 former Blue Dogs who lost their seats in November sympathize with their colleagues on the Hill.

“They’ve got a challenging dynamic in play,” said ex-Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (S.D.), a former Blue Dog co-chairwoman  who has joined Stenholm’s firm.

While still in office during the lame-duck session last year, then-Rep. Earl Pomeroy (N.D.) noted that at a Blue Dog Christmas party, there were more members departing Congress than returning.

“What I told them that night was the people that got the toughest job were those that were going to be Members of the 112th,” he said. “It’s a difficult task of being a minority within a minority.”

Even Cramer admits what the current Blue Dogs are going through may not compare to the mid-1990s power shift.

“It’s easy for me to say these things. It’s a very different atmosphere than what we encountered even in ’95,” Cramer said.

For all the political peril of Blue Dogs, their expats are fitting in well on K Street. That’s because their typically moderate, frequently pro-business views mesh well with pragmatic corporate America.

Pomeroy has joined Alston & Bird, while former Rep. Charlie Melancon (La.) has become a top lobbyist for the International Franchise Association. And ex-Rep. John Tanner (Tenn.) joined the Prime Policy Group.

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