Bayh Tries to Create Senate ‘Blue Dog’ Group

Posted December 12, 2008 at 6:04pm

Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) is trying to mobilize moderate Democratic Senators to form a group based loosely on the House Blue Dog Coalition.

“I think we have a wonderful opportunity to break the gridlock that has existed in Washington for too long,” Bayh said in an interview. “We need to do that in practical ways that will solve problems. The place that will be most important in striking that right balance will be in the Senate.”

Bayh, who has spoken with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) about his initiative, said he is trying to create a faction of moderate Senators who will gather on a weekly basis ahead of the usual Tuesday Democratic Caucus meetings.

Additionally, Bayh envisions inviting outside speakers to address the group, which would also work in concert with third parties that have similar viewpoints, like the Third Way, a nonpartisan progressive think tank.

A Reid spokesman said the Majority Leader was similarly upbeat about the idea.

“Nearly a decade of Republican fiscal irresponsibility has contributed to our current economic crisis,” Reid spokesman Jim Manley said in an e-mail statement. “That is why Sen. Reid welcomes Sen. Bayh’s decision to form this group. For we know that Sen. Bayh, like all Democrats, is committed to restoring our nation’s fiscal and economic health.”

Over the past three weeks, Bayh and his staff have reached out to Senators to judge the appetite for such a group.

“I’ve had some expressions of interest,” Bayh said. “I’m going to continue to meet and talk to my colleagues.”

Likely targets for Bayh would include moderate Democrats like Sens. Mark Pryor (Ark.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), Jim Webb (Va.), and Sen.-elect Mark Warner (Va.).

Bayh said his aim is to largely focus on public policy issues like the upcoming stimulus bill and energy and climate change.

This isn’t the first time that a band of moderate Senate Democrats have tried to create a loose organization. In the past, former Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) held regular meetings with moderate Senators.

Should Bayh be successful, it would raise his standing in the Democratic Caucus.

The 52-year-old former presidential candidate is looking to capitalize on the success of the Blue Dog Coalition, a 49-member group of fiscally conservative, pro-business Democrats who have enjoyed considerable fundraising success.

Blue Dog members have become sought after on several key votes, including the recent financial bailout package.

The Blue Dogs expanded their footprint prior to the election, endorsing Warner in the November election, their first time formally backing a Senate candidate.

However, the Senate group won’t be an exact mirror of the Blue Dogs.

“I just don’t think the Senate will ever lend itself to quite as formal an enterprise as the House,” said Bayh, who doesn’t expect there to be an official membership process or a mechanism to keep a tally on votes.

Fundraising is also unlikely to be a major component of the unnamed group.

“I think individual Senators will continue to have our leadership committees and help our colleagues,” said Bayh, who expects groups like the Moderate Democrats political action committee, which is nicknamed the “Mod Squad,” to continue to aide certain Democratic Senate incumbents and candidates.