Blue Dogs See Single-Digit Majority as Their ‘Sweet Spot’
Moderate Democratic caucus hoping to regrow its power through midterm gains
The nearly moribund Blue Dogs, the coalition of moderate-to-conservative House Democrats, are looking to rebuild influence in the next Congress — and they think they’re in an especially good position to do so if the November midterms result in a single-digit House majority.
The leaders of the Blue Dog Coalition, speaking with a small group of reporters Wednesday, said they obviously prefer a Democratic majority, but they think they will have power even if Republicans hold on to the majority with just a handful of seats.
“We get stuff passed regardless of who’s in control,” Oregon Rep. Kurt Schrader said.
Schrader heads the Blue Dog PAC, the coalition’s political arm that has endorsed 20 Democratic candidates so far this cycle, all of whom have committed to join the group if elected.
While not all of those candidates are likely to win their races, the Blue Dogs are still in a good position to grow their membership from 18 members currently to 20-some or even 30-some members if things go particularly well for Democrats in November.
“For Blue Dogs, the sweet spot is winning in single digits, winning the majority,” Schrader said.
That’s because the smaller the majority, the more a single caucus, especially one like the Blue Dogs that ideologically falls in the center of both parties, can wield its influence over legislation.
Historically, the Blue Dogs have voted as a bloc, Schrader said.
The coalition used to have a whip that would coalesce the group around policy positions that helped shape legislation such as the 2009 stimulus bill and the 2010 health care and financial overhauls when Democrats were last in the majority. Those were heady times for the coalition, when their membership hovered north of 50. The Blue Dogs are looking to restore the whip position next Congress.
“We’re not going to agree on everything,” Schrader said, noting they let members vote how they need to in order to get elected in their districts. “But because we have a lot of similar interests and similar values, we expect, frankly, that we’re going to have a consensus.”
Their goal, he said, is to “leverage a thoughtful, practical response in legislating.”
But even if Republicans win the majority by single digits, Blue Dogs’ influence may still grow, given that GOP leaders may turn to them to help pass legislation when their right flank rebels.
“We’ll be even stronger if it’s single digits and they still control,” Schrader said. “We’ll have more opportunity. Some of the rest of our colleagues maybe not quite so much.”
That means a narrow majority in either direction could benefit the Blue Dogs.
“This is kind of we win or we win,” Schrader said.
“But we want to win and be in the majority,” Blue Dog Coalition co-chair Jim Costa added.
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There are 86 seats considered in play this cycle, according to Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales, and Blue Dogs have candidates running in 16 of those districts. The other four candidates the group has endorsed are running in Solid Republican races.
Most of the Blue Dog candidates are running in districts where Republicans are favored to win — four in races Inside Elections rates Tilt Republican, three in races rated Lean Republican and seven in races rated Likely Republican — so they face an uphill battle to get elected.
But Schrader believes they have a good shot because of their qualifications, fundraising, hard work and willingness to break away from party talking points.
“These men and women don’t have an ideology,” he said. “They care about their districts.”
Only one Blue Dog-endorsed candidate, Jeff Van Drew, is running in a district where Democrats are favored. Inside Elections rates the open-seat race for New Jersey’s 2nd District Likely Democratic.
Blue Dog-endorsed Democrat Anthony Brindisi is running in a district, New York’s 22nd, that has shifted toward Democrats this cycle because of missteps made by incumbent GOP Rep. Claudia Tenney. Inside Elections rates that race a Toss-up.
Schrader acknowledged that the candidates have to run mistake-free campaigns to win and said he and other Blue Dog members have been counseling them on how to do that with lessons learned from their own campaigns over the years.
“If there’s a little bit of a breeze at our back, I’d venture to guess at least half of these [20 candidates] will win,” he said. “If there’s a bigger breeze, I think the numbers go up exponentially at that point in time.”
Even in the 2016 cycle, where Democrats underperformed their expectations and only flipped six Republican-held seats, four of those went to Blue Dog-endorsed candidates.
As Schrader has counseled Blue Dog candidates this midterm cycle, they must be prepared with an answer to the question of whether they’d support House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to remain atop the Democratic Caucus and then quickly pivot off that topic and into the issues voters care about.
Most of the group’s candidates have said they would not support Pelosi, positions Schrader thinks have allowed moderate and Republican-leaning voters to hear those candidates out on their policy ideas.
When Roll Call started to ask how those candidates would handle a scenario in which Pelosi emerges as the Democratic Caucus’s choice for speaker, Schrader interrupted.
“She won’t emerge as the caucus’s choice. That’s a safe bet,” he said. After the 2016 election, Schrader was among the most outspoken supporters of Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan in his bid to be minority leader over Pelosi. Ryan lost, but it was the most serious challenge Pelosi had to her leadership in more than a decade.
Even if his Pelosi prediction is wrong, Schrader said he’s confident those candidates would continue to oppose Pelosi during a floor vote for speaker.
“If they don’t do that, they’ll be here one term,” he said.
The Blue Dog Coalition itself has not taken a position on Pelosi or any potential speaker candidates. Members said they’ll be focused on supporting a candidate who is willing to change the way the House and the Democratic Caucus operates, decentralizing power and returning decision-making power to committees.
Such changes, the Blue Dogs believe, will help foster bipartisanship and reduce gridlock.
“People get tired of voting on things that aren’t going anywhere,” Costa said.