Blue Dog Coalition

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Blue Dog Coalition
Co-ChairsJim Costa (CA)
Dan Lipinski (IL)
Henry Cuellar (TX)
FoundedFebruary 14, 1995; 23 years ago (1995-02-14)
Fiscal conservatism[1][2]
Social conservatism[3]
Political positionCenter-left[5] to center-right[6]
National affiliationDemocratic Party
Colors     Blue
Seats in the House
18 / 435
Of the Democratic Party Seats
18 / 194

The Blue Dog Coalition, commonly known as the Blue Dogs or Blue Dog Democrats, is a caucus of United States Congressional Representatives from the Democratic Party who identify as conservative Democrats.

The caucus was formed in 1995[7][8] during the 104th Congress to give more conservative members from the Democratic Party a unified voice after the Democrats' loss of Congress in the U.S. Congressional election of 1994 Republican Revolution.[9] Blue Dog Coalition membership experienced a rapid decline in the 2010s, holding 14 seats in the 114th Congress.[10] The 115th Congress has seen the Coalition grow to 18 members.


President Barack Obama meets with Blue Dog Democrats on February 10, 2009

The term "Blue Dog Democrat" is credited to Texas Democratic Rep. Pete Geren (who later joined the Bush Administration). Geren opined that the members had been "choked blue" by Democrats on the left.[11] It is related to the political term "Yellow Dog Democrat", a reference to Southern Democrats said to be so loyal they would even vote for a yellow dog before they would vote for any Republican. The term is also a reference to the "Blue Dog" paintings of Cajun artist George Rodrigue of Lafayette, Louisiana as the original members of the coalition would regularly meet in the offices of Louisiana representatives Billy Tauzin and Jimmy Hayes, both of whom later joined the Republican Party—both also had Rodrigue's paintings on their walls.[12][13] An additional explanation for the term cited by members is "when dogs are not let into the house, they stay outside in the cold and turn blue", a reference to the Blue Dogs' belief they had been left out of a party that they believed had shifted to the political left.[14]

Although its membership is not exclusively Southern, some[15][16] view the Blue Dogs as the political successors to a now defunct-in-name Southern Democratic group known as the Boll Weevils, who played a critical role in the early 1980s by supporting President Ronald Reagan's tax cut plan. The Boll Weevils may in turn be considered the descendants of the Dixiecrats and the "states' rights" Democrats of the 1940s through the 1960s and even the Bourbon Democrats of the late 19th century.[17]

While the Blue Dog Coalition is officially made up of House members, the term "Blue Dog" is sometimes used informally for Democratic senators, governors, or state legislators who resemble the Blue Dog Coalition positions based on their politics. Current Senators include Bob Casey Jr. (D-PA) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) as well as Heidi Heitkamp (DNPL-ND).[citation needed]

Freshman Blue Dogs in the House are sometimes nicknamed "Blue Pups".[12]


The coalition was notably successful in a special election of February 2004 in Kentucky to fill a vacant seat in the House of Representatives.[citation needed] They were also successful in the November 2004 elections, when three of the five races in which a Democrat won a formerly Republican House seat were won by Blue Dogs.

In 2006, Blue Dog candidates such as Jason Altmire, Heath Shuler and Brad Ellsworth were elected in conservative-leaning districts, ending years of Republican dominance in these areas.

In 2007, 15 Blue Dog Coalition Members in safe seats refused to contribute party dues to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. An additional 16 Blue Dogs have not paid any money to the DCCC, but were exempt from party-mandated contributions because they were top GOP targets for defeat in 2008. One reason for the party-dues boycott is contained in remarks made by Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) encouraging leaders of anti-war groups to field primary challenges to any Democrat who does not vote to end the war in Iraq. Woolsey later stated that she was misunderstood, but the Blue Dogs have continued with the boycott. Donations to party Congressional Committees are an important source of funding for the party committees, permitting millions of dollars to be funneled back into close races.[18]

In the summer of 2009, The Economist newspaper said "[t]he debate over health care... may be the pinnacle of the group's power so far" and quoted Charlie Stenholm, a founding Blue Dog, as saying that "this is the first year for the new kennel in which their votes are really going to make a difference".[19]

The Blue Dog Coalition suffered serious losses in the 2010 midterm elections, losing over half of its seats to Republican challengers. Its members, who were roughly one quarter of the Democratic Party's caucus in the 111th Congress, accounted for half of the party's midterm election losses.[20] Including retirements, Blue Dog numbers in the House were reduced from 54 members in 2009 to 26 members in 2011 and two of the Coalition's four leaders (Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and Baron Hill) failed to secure re-election.[21][22]

Opposition to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and climate change legislation are believed to have contributed to the defeat of two conservative Democrats in the 2012 House elections in Pennsylvania by more liberal opponents.[23]

Following the 2012 House of Representatives elections, the Blue Dog Coalition went from 27 members to 14 members. Speculation ensued that the centrist New Democrat Coalition would fill the power vacuum created by the Blue Dog Coalition's decline.[24]


The Blue Dog Coalition is often involved in searching for a compromise between liberal and conservative positions. The coalition currently has 18 members in the House of Representatives.[10] Most of the Blue Dogs are a continuation of the socially conservative wing of the Democratic Party.[3] However, there is not any mention "in the official Blue Dog materials about social issues".[25] The coalition is fiscally conservative, but does not determine a platform for social issues. Among Blue Dog Democrats, "some are fiscally conservative and moderate or liberal on social issues, some are the reverse".[26]

Despite the Blue Dogs' differing degrees of economic and social conservatism, they claim they generally work to promote positions within the House of Representatives that bridge the gap between right-wing and left-wing politics. Blue Dogs are an important swing vote on spending bills and as a result have gained influence in Congress out of proportion to their numbers. They are frequently sought after to broker compromises between the Democratic and Republican leadership, generally being swing votes when it comes to voting.[27]


The biggest single source of finance for the Blue Dog Political Action Committee is the health care industry, which donated $1.2 million in the 2009–2010 election cycle.[28] In July 2009, Blue Dog members who were committee members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee successfully delayed the House vote on the Health Insurance Reform Bill (HR3200) until after the Summer Recess.[29][30] It was during this recess that the term "Obamacare" was first derisively adopted by Republicans on Capitol Hill[31] It is widely proposed that Blue Dog opposition to the "public option" and this recess, with that summer's contentious Town Hall meetings, provided the healthcare law's Republican opponents the opportunity to attack and subsequently get the public option dropped from the original, pre-recess, bill.[32][33]

Political relationships[edit]

New Democrat Coalition[edit]

Members of the New Democrat Coalition, formerly an affiliate of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), take liberal positions on social issues and moderate positions on economic issues and trade. The DLC aims to revitalize and strengthen the Democratic Party while the Blue Dogs emphasize bipartisanship.

Democrats who identify with the Blue Dogs tend to be more conservative on social issues than "New Democrats". Reflecting the group's Southern roots, many Blue Dogs are strong supporters of gun rights and receive high ratings from the National Rifle Association, some have pro-life voting records and some get high ratings from immigration reduction groups and from the insurance industry. They supported the Republican and corporate-backed Bankruptcy Reform Act of 2005. However, as a caucus they have never agreed on, or taken, a formal position on these issues and some members may favor more socially liberal platforms.

On economic issues, Blue Dogs tend to be pro-business, favoring lower corporate tax rates, limiting public welfare spending and reducing Social Security benefits.[34][35] However, individually both New Democrats and Blue Dogs may have differing positions on trade issues and they include both supporters and strong critics of labor unions, protectionism and free trade. Some Democrats are members of both the Blue Dog Coalition and the New Democratic Coalition, as was former Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona.


Founding members were Glen Browder and Bud Cramer of Alabama; Blanche Lambert Lincoln of Arkansas; Gary Condit of California; Nathan Deal of Georgia; William Lipinski of Illinois; Scotty Baesler of Kentucky; Billy Tauzin and Jimmy Hayes of Louisiana; Collin Peterson and David Minge of Minnesota; Michael Parker and Gene Taylor of Mississippi; Pat Danner of Missouri; William K. Brewster of Oklahoma; John S. Tanner of Tennessee; Ralph Hall, Charles Stenholm, Pete Geren and Greg Laughlin of Texas, Bill Orton of Utah; and Lewis F. Payne, Jr. and Owen Pickett of Virginia. Condit (Administration), Peterson (Policy) and Tanner (Communications) were co-chairs (Deal was initially the chair for Policy before he switched parties shortly after the caucus's founding). Browder headed the group's budget task force.[36]

After growth in the caucus after the 2006 and 2008 elections, Blue Dog membership was nearly cut in half by the 2010 election, in which 26 members were re-elected but 28 were either defeated or chose not to run for re-election. Blue Dog membership was nearly cut in half again for the 113th Congress. Of the 27 Blue Dogs, 3 resigned (Giffords, Cardoza and Harman), while 10 chose not to run for re-election or were defeated. Of the remaining 14 members Adam Schiff left the coalition, but Pete Gallego (Texas), Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona), Ron Barber (Arizona), Nick Rahall (West Virginia), Dan Lipinski (Illinois) and Cheri Bustos (Illinois) joined them for the 113th Congress.


Term start Term end Chair for Administration Chair for Communications Chair for Policy
February 1995 April 1995 Rep. Gary Condit (CA-18) Rep. John S. Tanner (TN-8) Rep. Nathan Deal (GA-9)
April 1995 January 1999 Rep. Collin Peterson (MN-7)
January 1999 January 2001 Rep. Robert E. Cramer (AL-5) Rep. Chris John (LA-7) Rep. Charles Stenholm (TX-17)
January 2001 January 2003 Rep. Chris John (LA-7) Rep. Jim Turner (TX-2) Rep. Allen Boyd (FL-2)
January 2003 January 2005 Rep. Jim Turner (TX-2) Rep. Baron Hill (IN-9) Rep. Charles Stenholm (TX-17)
January 2005 January 2007 Rep. Jim Matheson (UT-2) Rep. Dennis Cardoza (CA-18) Rep. Jim Cooper (TN-5)
January 2007 January 2009 Rep. Allen Boyd (FL-2) Rep. Mike Ross (AR-4) Rep. Dennis Moore (KS-3)
January 2009 October 2009 Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (SD-AL) Rep. Charlie Melancon (LA-3) Rep. Baron Hill (IN-9)
October 2009 January 2011 Rep. Jim Matheson (UT-2)
January 2011 January 2013 Rep. Heath Shuler (NC-11) Rep. Mike Ross (AR-4) Rep. John Barrow (GA-12)
January 2013 January 2015 Rep. John Barrow (GA-12) Rep. Kurt Schrader (OR-5) Rep. Jim Cooper (TN-5)
January 2015 January 2017 Rep. Kurt Schrader (OR-5) Rep. Jim Costa (CA-16)
January 2017 present Rep. Jim Costa (CA-16) Rep. Henry Cuellar (TX-28) Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL-3)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Kane, Paul (January 15, 2013). "Blue Dog Democrats, whittled down in number, are trying to regroup". Washington Post. Retrieved July 23, 2014.
  2. ^ a b Davis, Susan. "U.S. House has fewer moderate Democrats". USA Today. Retrieved July 23, 2014.
  3. ^ a b Blake, Aaron (April 25, 2012). "Why the Blue Dogs' decline was inevitable". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 23, 2016.
  4. ^ "Trump Has Captured the Blue Dog Vote".
  5. ^ Wasserman, David (November 5, 2012). "Why 2012 Will Be a Watershed House Election". National Journal. Retrieved August 16, 2014. (subscription required)
  6. ^ "Elections A to Z". SAGE. 2012. Retrieved August 14, 2014.
  7. ^ "History - Blue Dog Coalition". Retrieved November 15, 2016.
  8. ^ "History, Blue Dog Coalition". Retrieved April 10, 2012.[permanent dead link]
  9. ^ Naftali Bendavid (July 28, 2009). "'Blue Dog' Democrats Hold Health-Care Overhaul at Bay". The Wall Street Journal.
  10. ^ a b "Members". Blue Dog Caucus. Retrieved January 10, 2018.
  11. ^ "Wordcraft Archives, November 2004". Retrieved February 23, 2016.
  12. ^ a b Suddath, Claire (July 28, 2009). "A Brief History of Blue Dog Democrats". Time. Retrieved September 7, 2009.
  13. ^ Safire, William (April 23, 1995). "On Language; Blue Dog Demo". New York Times. Retrieved September 7, 2009.
  14. ^ "Blue Dog Democrats". November 4, 2008. Retrieved March 17, 2010.
  15. ^ Parties, Rules, and the Evolution of Congressional Budgeting, Lance T. LeLoup, 2005, pp. 185
  16. ^ Encyclopedia of American Parties, Campaigns, and Elections, William C. Binning et al, 1999, pp. 307.
  17. ^ Thomson, Alex (2007). A Glossary of U.S. Politics and Government. Stanford University Press. p. 14. ISBN 978-0-8047-5730-0.
  18. ^ Bresnahan, John (October 24, 2007). "Blue Dogs refuse to pony up for DCCC". The Politico. Retrieved November 1, 2007.
  19. ^ "The Democratic Party's centrists: Blue Dog days". The Economist. July 30, 2009.
  20. ^ "Blue Dogs Shaved in Half - Blue Dog Democrats - Fox Nation". Fox News. November 3, 2010. Archived from the original on July 26, 2011.
  21. ^ Allen, Jonathan. "Blue Dog wipeout: Half of caucus gone". Politico. Retrieved February 23, 2016.
  22. ^ "A vanishing breed: Blue Dogs". Los Angeles Times. November 3, 2010.
  23. ^ "Why the Blue Dogs' decline was inevitable". Washington Post. April 25, 2012.
  24. ^ "New Dems hope to be a force in 113th Congress". The Hill. November 17, 2012.
  25. ^ Parton, Heather Digby. "Bye-bye, blue dog "Democrats": What the end of conservative Dems means for America". Salon. Retrieved December 24, 2016.
  26. ^ Dewan, Shaila; Kornblut, Anne E. (October 30, 2006). "In Key House Races, Democrats Run to the Right". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 24, 2016.
  27. ^ Bendavid, Naftali (July 27, 2009). "'Blue-Dog' Democrats Hold Health-Care Overhaul at Bay". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved December 24, 2016.
  28. ^ Hiltzik, Michael (August 3, 2009). "What's so great about private health insurance?". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 17, 2010.
  29. ^ "Are the Blue Dogs Really Working For You? « Silver Buzz Cafe". August 20, 2009. Retrieved March 17, 2010.
  30. ^ "Two House Committees Approve Health Reform Bill". Child Welfare League of America. July 27, 2009. Retrieved February 26, 2013.
  31. ^ Wallace, Gregory (June 25, 2012). "'Obamacare': The word that defined the health care debate". CNN. Archived from the original on July 12, 2012. Retrieved February 26, 2013.
  32. ^ Ball, Molly (November 16, 2012). "Blue Dogs Are Dwindling". The Atlantic. Retrieved February 27, 2013.
  33. ^ Stolberg, Sheryl Gay (August 17, 2009). "'Public Option' in Health Plan May Be Dropped". New York Times. Retrieved February 26, 2013.
  34. ^ "Retiring Blue Dog Democrat Heath Shuler Breaks His Pledge To Not Become A Lobbyist". Progressive Change Campaign Committee. November 27, 2012. Retrieved February 27, 2013.
  35. ^ "Republicans and Blue Dogs Go After Social Security Under the Radar". Santa Rosa County Democrats. June 27, 2011. Archived from the original on April 28, 2014. Retrieved February 27, 2013.
  36. ^ Certain, Geni (2012). Professor-Politician, The Biography of Alabama Congressman Glen Browder. NewSouth Books. p. 147. ISBN 978-1-58838-254-2.

External links[edit]