Blue Dogs to Hit the Road for Allies

See Adding to Their Ranks as Key to Reclaiming House

Posted June 11, 2004 at 4:26pm

Conservative Blue Dog Democrats, believing their candidates hold the key to their party’s chances of reaching a majority, will launch a multi-state campaign initiative later this summer to win back the House.

Members of the Blue Dog Coalition will take to buses for three barnstorming trips to campaign for their incumbent allies, open-seat candidates and challengers. While details are still being hammered out, beginning in August the Blue Dogs plan to hit a series of states and districts to raise money, mobilize voters and push their message of fiscal conservatism.

The effort, the first of its kind for the group, was pushed by freshman Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.) and will focus on their threatened Members first, followed by the expected six to 10 candidates the group plans to endorse.

“We are ramping it up — money, bodies, time and effort,” declared Blue Dog Communications Chairman Rep. Baron Hill (Ind.).

Beyond hitting the trail, the Blue Dogs also plan a major fundraising drive for their candidates this cycle, vowing to max out through its political action committee to its neediest Members, its endorsed candidates and eventually other Blue Dogs.

So far, the Blue Dogs have formally put their weight behind two candidates: Nick Clooney (Ky.), who hopes to replace Democratic Rep. Ken Lucas, and Don Barbieri (Wash.), who is vying to take the seat of Rep. George Nethercutt (R).

“We are very focused,” said Blue Dog spokesman Eric Wortman. “There’s the realization that there’s a chance [to take back the House], but there’s also a realization that if Democrats do it, it will because of Blue Dogs who can win in Republican seats.”

Rep. Charlie Stenholm (D-Texas), another leader of the organization, said Democrats will win the majority this cycle in the same way the GOP won in 1994.

“That’s how we lost the majority,” Stenholm said. “The seats they took on were conservative [Democratic] seats.”

The Blue Dogs are now 39 Members strong, a number that has been climbing since the group formed in 1995. The coalition began with 15 Members.

The group’s major political offensive comes on the heels of two Democratic special election wins in previously Republican-held districts. Blue Dogs and their staff actively campaigned and endorsed newly elected Democratic Reps. Ben Chandler (Ky.) and Stephanie Herseth (S.D.), and the two Members have since joined the coalition.

The Blue Dogs credit those two wins to a changing tide in the country among voters, who want fiscally conservative lawmakers and believe the Republican majority has not delivered. That, coupled with the fact that voters remain disillusioned by a struggling economy and ballooning federal deficits, the Blue Dog leaders say.

“Fiscal conservatism and tolerance on other issues resonates in middle America,” said Rep. John Tanner (Tenn.), another Blue Dog leader.

Rep. Allen Boyd (Fla.), who chairs the Blue Dog PAC, said 14 of the Blue Dog incumbents are in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Frontline” program, the list of party’s most threatened Members. He added that the Blue Dogs “keep molding our political operation” to make it stronger, knowing that those candidates must win if Democrats want a shot at the majority.

“Our first objective is to defend our incumbents,” Boyd said, adding that candidates are constantly calling to win the group’s backing. “We are working hard to do that.”

Democratic leaders also recognize the importance of Blue Dog victories this cycle, and agree that the party must show voters it too is fiscally conservative.

“We do as a core value of the Democratic Party care about the economy and deficits,” said Brendan Daly, spokesman for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “These are the values that unite us as Democrats — being fiscally responsible and taking care of the economy.”