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Blue Dogs Have Their Day

A Commentary by Froma Harrop

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Hmmm, suppose there were a liberal Democrat as president but a more conservative Democratic majority in Congress. That could happen. As Democrats scoop up seats in traditionally Republican districts, they add members quite unlike their old-time lefties with a program for every plight.

Meet the Blue Dog Democrats. They are not averse to helping the little guy, but are opposed to helping him with borrowed money. These are fiscal conservatives who generally hail from the South or Midwest. But they do include a good number of Californians and a smattering of Northerners, as well.

To them, Bill Clinton's presidency was the golden age of fiscal rectitude, a model of sobriety beside the Bush administration's eight-year bender of spending and borrowing. Not surprisingly, the Blue Dogs' preferred presidential candidate was Hillary Clinton.

Allen Boyd represents the Florida panhandle and is co-chair of the 49-member Blue Dog Coalition. I asked him how his group feels about the party's decision on a nominee.

"Any discussion of what might be better is irrelevant," Boyd said philosophically. "We move forward from here."

But presidential politics is not the Dogs' big game, anyway. They're fixed on adding pups to their pack in Congress. And they like what they see on the electoral horizon.

In 2006, Blue Dogs took eight seats from Republicans. The coalition is now endorsing nine candidates -- eight of them in Republican-held districts. (The one Democratic seat is that of Alabama Rep. Bud Cramer, who is retiring and an esteemed Blue Dog founder.)

The race that especially excites Boyd is for the Idaho's 1st congressional district, which includes Coeur d'Alene and Boise's western suburbs. Walt Minnick has been polling remarkably well against the Republican incumbent, Rep. Bill Sali, in this reddest of red states

"Can you imagine a Democrat winning in Idaho?" Boyd said with relish.

Liberals are of course delighted by the prospect of a strengthened House majority, but they ought to digest the reality that these new Democrats aren't entirely their type. Remember how they rejoiced earlier this year when their party took three Republican seats in special elections? Two of them, Travis Childers in Mississippi and Don Cazayoux in Louisiana, immediately joined the Blue Dogs. They are economic populists but also as socially conservative as any Southern Republican and deficit hawks.

And so the day may dawn when a President Obama draws up a wish list for expanding health coverage, stimulating the economy and investing in alternative energy, and this huge bloc of his own party says, "Love it, but where are we going to find the money ... ?"

The Blue Dogs praise Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for holding firm on PayGo, the rule that any new spending or tax cuts must be offset by tax hikes or spending cuts elsewhere. But party liberals have been howling at the PayGo restrictions as the killer of their dreams. They say that Republicans never worried about paying for anything, did they?

They did not, but that's one of the Blue Dogs' selling points to the voters. That's why they are better.

What do the Blue Dogs want to hear from candidate Obama?

"He should speak to me about the fiscal crisis," Boyd said, "that we must address this prior to addressing these other problems."

And if fiscal discipline makes liberals mad, that's OK. The Blue Dogs are seeking to establish a bipartisan coalition of the center. And they are willing to work with whomever gets elected president in November.

As Kansas Rep. Dennis Moore told a Blue Dog gathering in Denver: "The American people want Democrats and Republicans to work together. Let the extremes at both ends go their own way."

COPYRIGHT 2008 THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL CO.

See Other Political Commentaries

See Other Commentaries by Froma Harrop

Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.

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