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Blue Dogs Live to Fight Another Day, Despite Some Defeats

Blue Dog Democrat John Barrow won re-election, surprising some who thought his newly drawn district would doom his bid. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Blue Dog Democrat John Barrow won re-election, surprising some who thought his newly drawn district would doom his bid. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

It’s been two tough cycles for conservative Blue Dog Democrats, but amidst the dark clouds — three caucus members lost — there were some very bright spots for the battered breed on Election Day.

Democratic Reps. John Barrow (Ga.) and Jim Matheson (Utah) pulled out re-election victories, despite running in reconfigured and heavily Republican districts. And Rep. Mike McIntyre (N.C.) looked poised for victory in another Republican district, although the Associated Press had not called the race by Wednesday morning. All three are Blue Dog Democrats who managed to localize their contests and run as conservatives, not letting national issues sweep them away.

Blue Dogs who lost, such as Kentucky Rep. Ben Chandler, ended up fighting their races on tenuous national turf. Republican Congressman-elect Andy Barr smartly tied Chandler to President Barack Obama, who is deeply unpopular in the Bluegrass State, and Obama’s “war on coal.” Much of the final weeks of the race were spent on the coal issue, which was poisonous to Chandler. And perhaps the killshot was an ad featuring Chandler lauding Obama.

Rep. Larry Kissell (D-N.C.), who was a weak campaigner and lackluster fundraiser, also suffered from a nationalization of his race. Iowa Rep. Leonard Boswell, another losing Blue Dog, was defeated as much by the substantial monetary advantage of his opponent, Rep. Tom Latham (R), as external messaging factors.

Meanwhile, winners Matheson, Barrow and likely winner McIntyre managed to inoculate themselves from attacks tying them to the president and kept voters focused on their conservative, independent image. Though all three Members faced newly drawn and more Republican districts, many voters had a sense of who they were at the start of their races. And they started defining themselves to new voters early.

McIntyre “was pretty successful in defining himself as not just ‘crazy liberal,'” explained Jonathan Kappler, the research director at the nonpartisan NC FreeEnterpriese Foundation. “McIntyre just hit all the right notes.”

And, as much as each was showing how time in Washington, D.C., hadn’t changed him, it didn’t hurt to have friends there. The independent expenditure arm of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent more than $500,000 for Barrow, $800,000 for Matheson and $1.9 million McIntyre. Third party groups such as the House Majority PAC also helped.

The results left Blue Dogs feeling pretty good.

“We’ve said all along that Members like Jim Matheson, John Barrow and Mike McIntyre were fighters and were going to overcome Republican attempts to gerrymander their districts because of their commitment to their constituents,” said Andrew Whalen, the national political director of the Blue Dog PAC.

“We are saddened to have lost Mr. Boswell, Mr. Chandler and Mr. Kissell, but tonight Blue Dogs have showed that our message of fiscal responsiblity resonates with voters and does have a place in the Democratic party,” he said.

Whalen also congratulated Blue Dog-endorsed Congressman-elect Pete Gallego (D-Texas) on his victory. Gallego beat freshman Rep. Francisco “Quico” Conseco in Texas’ 23rd district.

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