Blue Dog Democrats have seen a sharp decline in membership after losing crucial election congressional elections.
Blue Dog Democrats declining or not returning interview requests include Rep. Kurt Schrader, Rep. Mike McIntyre and Rep. John Barrow. (Source: U.S. Congress)
(RNN) - It didn't come as much of an election night surprise when congressional control stayed the same for the 113th United States Congress.
When they convene in January, Democrats will remain in control of the Senate with 55 members in their caucus, gaining two seats lost by Republicans.
Although Republicans lost a number of seats in the House of Representatives, they kept the majority with 234 of 435 members.
But within the biennial Congressional shuffle lies a once-powerful coalition of moderate politicians fighting to stay alive.
Since 1995, the Blue Dog Coalition has been a group of Democratic congressmen considered to be moderates. Members pledge they are "not beholden to any political party leadership, but rather the constituents they represent."
Identified among colleagues as "fiscally conservative Democrats," the Blue Dogs are some of the most independent members of Congress. They tend to pay particular attention to spending and budgeting, all while trying to bridge the gap between Democrats and Republicans.
"Always beginning negotiations from extreme positions doesn't help achieve the legislative compromise our nation so desperately needs," the Blue Dog Coalition said in a statement. "It also doesn't assure the moderate voters who decide elections in swing districts that the Democratic Party is moderate."
So why have Blue Dogs continued to dwindle?
According to Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak, it's all about the national political climate.
During the height of the anti-Bush momentum in 2006, Blue Dog Democrats were able to gain support from certain groups of Republican voters who were frustrated with their party's leadership.
"Blue Dogs are often forced to be moderate by the demographics and makeup of their districts. Oftentimes, they're southern Democrats in very socially conservative districts that certainly go Republican in presidential elections," Mackowiak said. "But a conservative, pro-business, moderate Democrat can win in a good environment if they run a good campaign."
Mackowiak managed a successful campaign for Republican Congressman Bill Flores, who defeated former moderate Democratic Rep. Chet Edwards in Texas' 17th Congressional District in 2010.
Edwards was a 10-term incumbent.
Blue Dogs were able to use the political climate to their advantage in the 2006 and 2008 elections, but Republicans have been able to do the same since then and reclaim the House.
Since many Blue Dogs come from conservative districts, Mackowiak said Republican campaigns that beat incumbent Blue Dogs appealed to Republican voters because they connected their opponents to unpopular Democratic politics.
He said the success of the Flores campaign was helped by widespread disapproval of key players in the Democratic Party, creating a negative climate for Democrats.
"It was widely a conservative district and one that [Edwards] was able to hold on to for a long time, but it was never by a large margin," said Mackowiak. "But in 2010, we were at the anti-Obama and anti-Pelosi enthusiasm."
Once standing strong at 54 members in 2008, Blue Dogs helped give Democrats control of the house for four years.
The loss of Blue Dog incumbents in the 2010 midterm elections shrunk the coalition to 26 members, with voters favoring more conservative candidates.
November's election added to the loss, leaving Congress with just 13 Blue Dogs.
Times may be looking grim for the group. However, they still believe their coalition is the key to a successful Democratic party.
"What is so puzzling about Democrats writing off certain congressional districts … is that they fail to either see or accept the correlation between winning those highly competitive House seats below the Mason-Dixon Line and taking control of Congress," the Blue Dog Coalition said in a statement.
"It is not a coincidence that the reduction of Blue Dogs on Capitol Hill coincides with Republican control of the House of Representatives."
Due to their moderate views, they are seen in the public eye as swing votes for controversial spending bills. Some Republicans might argue that Blue Dogs' fiscal conservatism is all a facade, making them susceptible in elections.
"When I was on the Hill, we used to always talk about Blue Dogs having the bark but not the bite," added Mackowiak. "They talk about being fiscal conservatives, but they oftentimes vote for spending bills."
Another factor thrusting Blue Dogs into a downward spiral is a lack of party loyalty.
Although pundits have said our country is at a time where reaching across the aisle is crucial to legislative success, support of affiliated party has become crucial to keeping your seat.
The nature of being a Blue Dog prevents candidates from pledging devotion to a single political party, which can be frustrating during reelection.
Although this strategy works in certain instances, it tends to alienate some Democrat support. And when a Blue Dog goes up against a Republican who is able to attract both moderate and staunch conservatives, they become susceptible to defeat.
Meanwhile, the Blue Dog caucus maintains they don't want their fellow Democrats to lose sight of their party's message.
"We are not suggesting that Democrats abandon their principles. Rather, instead of always starting political debates on the far left, and only moving to the middle during negotiations, Democrats should begin in the middle and challenge Republicans to come to us," the Blue Dogs said in a statement.
Loyalty aside, the pressure of the election cycle on the Blue Dogs can be overwhelming.
"Most members of Congress only fear a primary or only fear a general election. But Blue Dogs fear both every two years," Mackowiak said.
"They fear primaries from the left because they're not 'liberal' enough. And then once they survive that primary, they try to move back to the middle and run against a fairly conservative and well-funded candidate."
Although there is no set agenda for the Blue Dogs going forward, the 13 remaining members of the coalition will undoubtedly be swing votes on crucial spending bills.
They will also focus on votes concerning federal oversight and regulatory review, energy independence and small business development.
Interview requests with several Blue Dog congressmen were either denied or not returned, including Representatives Mike McIntyre (NC - District 7), John Barrow (GA - District 12) and Kurt Schrader (OR - District 5).
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