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Blue Dogs Looking for a Lift

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Rep. Heath Shuler was rumored to be in the running for the athletic director position at the University of Tennessee, but he has said he will run for re-election.

“Now that the Republican Conference within the House is so splintered, I think that makes our role even more important,” Ross said. “The Speaker obviously has difficulty amassing a majority vote on issues that are bipartisan in nature.”

But Democrats forecast the same scenario earlier this year when, in an interview, Rep. Tim Holden (D-Pa.) predicted that Blue Dogs “are going to be players in trying to solve the problems our country is facing.”

While they put out their own fiscal reform proposal and worked with the Senate “gang of six” on spending matters, the Blue Dogs were not front and center in the debt limit fight, an issue that speaks to their very mission. But the group is composed first of Democrats, and Members said they were angered in equal parts by the Republicans’ messaging as with the majority’s policy proposals.

Shuler, a Blue Dog co-chairman, said voting against Boehner’s proposal showed that “we couldn’t be bought off, and we weren’t just going to play politics.”

“We felt like they wanted to pick off a couple of Blue Dogs so they could say it was a bipartisan piece of legislation,” he said in an interview with Roll Call. Shuler is running for re-election in a district made more Republican by redistricting.

The coalition has at times had a testy relationship with Democratic leaders, particularly with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), but the debt limit debate helped to mend fences between the two camps. Not one Democrat voted for Boehner’s initial plan, and Blue Dogs feel validated now to hear Pelosi and others talk about the merits of fiscal reform.

“Pelosi understands the Blue Dogs’ function; it provides a Good Housekeeping seal of approval for moderates running in red districts,” the former chief of staff said.

Shuler is one of four Blue Dogs on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s recruitment team, and he predicted the party would have an easier time recruiting moderate candidates for 2012 now that Democratic leaders are talking up fiscal reform and spending controls.

Up-and-comers within the coalition who are seen as its future leaders include Reps. Kurt Schrader (Ore.), John Barrow (Ga.) and Jason Altmire (Pa.). Schrader and Altmire were each re-elected with just 51 percent last year, however, and while it’s hard to imagine the loss of any more moderate Democrats in 2012 than the slash from 2010, each of those Members will have to hustle to win another term. Altmire in particular might be forced into a run against a fellow Democrat, Rep. Mark Critz, because of redistricting.

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