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Blue Dogs Seek to Add Membership Across U.S.

After 10 years of concentrating its energy inside the Capitol, the conservative House Blue Dog Coalition is nationalizing its efforts, taking its message on the road and enlisting state and local Democrats to be a part of the group.

The 35-member coalition has in recent weeks begun a traveling campaign to talk up its core message of fiscal discipline and deficit spending — trying to raise public awareness about what it views as a national crisis created by Republicans. The group has also begun soliciting “citizen Blue Dogs,” or a local membership comprising conservative and moderate Democrats who subscribe to the group’s fiscal discipline and social tolerance mantra.

“The Blue Dogs are no longer just about the South and Midwest,” said Rep. Mike Ross (Ark.), the Blue Dogs’ whip. “Ours is a growing movement. There is a lot of frustration by Democrats and Republicans and independents across the country. They are sick of all the partisan bickering.”

Rep. Jim Matheson (Utah), the Blue Dog co-chairman for administration, said members of the organization “feel like we’ve made our case here, now we need to generate more grass-roots support.”

“There are a lot of Democrats out there — people who very much believe in the Blue Dog point of view,” he said. “We’ve had individual efforts in our districts … now we’re trying to take our issues to a national level.”

The organization has spent the past decade trying to carve out a role within the Democratic Caucus and has become a go-to group on key issues involving budget and fiscal affairs. But for the first time, its Members have been touring major cities including Chicago and New York, meeting with the editorial boards of the nation’s largest newspapers and holding forums with traditionally Republican organizations including local chambers of commerce and rotary clubs.

Rep. Dennis Cardoza (Calif.), who heads the Blue Dog communications effort, said the group’s members decided they must move beyond their own districts and the Beltway to turn the public’s attention to their message. Cardoza initiated the travel effort after the 2004 election cycle as a continuation of a Blue Dog-organized national bus tour to elect conservative Democrats to Congress.

At that time, he said, the public felt the Blue Dogs were simply pulling an election-year stunt rather than talking about a longstanding message on which the group was created.

Cardoza said the group wanted to change that perception and more effectively promote an agenda they felt wasn’t getting its due in Washington. Now the Blue Dogs are “redoubling our efforts” to make sure their drumbeat resonates with the public.

“I think it’s starting to hit home,” Cardoza said. “It’s about being able to manage our government, and part of it is balancing the budget. The Republicans have been in power for 10 years and the president has been in power for five. The bad times started on their watch.”

The California Democrat added that Blue Dogs have “never gotten the response” they are getting now to their message. “These are things we talk about all the time here, but people just think it’s rhetoric.”

The conservative group also acknowledges potential political rewards exist in convincing voters that Democrats are the party that will keep the books in order — a move it says will ensure job growth, a strong economy and resources being shifted to critical programs.

Rep. John Tanner (Tenn.), one of the longest-serving Blue Dogs, said the group is already seeing results.

“Cracks are beginning to appear in the dam,” he said. “I don’t know how much longer a one-party government can ignore a financially irresponsible government. If people know about the deterioration of the nation’s financial balance sheet, they would be willing to do something about that.

“It’s grim news.”

While still in their infancy, the Blue Dogs are getting traction with their newly formed citizen arm. The group has created an area on its Web site to allow people to join, and receive newsletters and updates about the Blue Dogs. The Members themselves are also reaching out in their own states to encourage like-minded Democrats to latch on.

Ross said he’s talked to dozens of individuals in his home state who are looking for a “place in our party.” The Blue Dogs have in recent cycles helped recruit, endorse and financially support conservative Democratic candidates.

“A lot of them identify with our message, but also with what we are doing,” Ross said.

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