What is a Blue Dog Democrat?

Why the Conservative Democrats Called Blue Dogs are a Dying Breed

Rep. Brad Ashford of Nebraska
U.S. Rep. Brad Ashford of Nebraska is a member of the Blue Dog Democrats in Congress. U.S. House of Representatives

A Blue Dog Democrat is a member of Congress who is moderate or more conservative in their voting record and political philosophy than other, more liberal, Democrats in the House and Senate. The Blue Dog Democrat, however, has become an increasingly rare breed in American politics as voters and elected officials become more partisan and polarized in their beliefs.

Specifically, the ranks of the Blue Dog Democrat fell dramatically beginning in 2010 as the partisan divide between Republicans and Democrats grew wider.

Two members lost their primary races in Election 2012 to more liberal Democrats.

There are several explanations for how the name Blue Dog Democrat came about. One is that founding members of the congressional caucus in the mid-1990s claimed to have felt "choked blue by the extremes in both parties." Another explanation for the term Blue Dog Democrat is that the group initially held its meetings in an office that had a painting of a blue dog on the wall.

The Blue Dog Coalition said of its name:

"The name 'Blue Dog' originates from the long-time tradition of referring to a strong Democratic Party supporter as being a 'Yellow Dog Democrat,' who would, 'vote for a yellow dog if it was listed on the ballot as a Democrat.' Leading up to the 1994 election the founding members of the Blue Dogs felt that they had been 'choked blue' by the extremes of both political parties."

Blue Dog Democrat Philosophy

A Blue Dog Democrat is one who views himself as being in the middle of the partisan spectrum and as an advocate for fiscal restraint at the federal level.

The preamble to the Blue Dog Caucus in the House describes its members as being "dedicated to the financial stability and national security of the country, notwithstanding partisan political positions and personal fortune."

Members of the Blue Dog Democrat coalition listed among their legislative priorities a "Pay-As-You-Go Act," which require that any legislation that requires an outlay of taxpayer money cannot increase the federal deficit.

They also supported balancing the federal budget, closing tax loopholes, and cutting spending through the elimination of programs they feel don't work.

History of the Blue Dog Democrat

The House Blue Dog Coalition was formed in 1995 after Republicans who drafted a conservative Contract with American were swept into power in Congress during the midterm elections that year. It was the first Republican House majority since 1952. Democrat Bill Clinton was president at the time.

The first group of Blue Dog Democrats consisted of 23 House members who felt the 1994 midterm elections were a clear sign that their party had moved too far to the left and was therefore rejected by mainstream voters. By 2010 the coalition had grown to 54 members. But many of its members lost in the 2010 midterm elections during Democrat Barack Obama's presidency.

By 2017 the number of Blue Dogs had fallen to 14.

Members of the Blue Dog Caucus

There were only 15 members of the Blue Dog Caucus in 2016. They were:

  • Rep. Brad Ashford of Nebraska
  • Rep. Sanford Bishop of Georgia
  • Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee
  • Rep. Jim Costa of California
  • Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas
  • Rep. Gwen Graham of Florida
  • Rep. Dan Lipinski of Illinois
  • Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota
  • Rep. Loretta Sanchez of California
  • Rep. Kurt Schrader of Oregon
  • Rep. David Scott of Georgia
  • Rep. Mike Thompson of California
  • Rep. Filemon Vela of Texas
  • Rep. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona