A Dog Of A Different Color : It's All Politics What exactly are Blue Dog Democrats?
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A Dog Of A Different Color

Lots of questions have been coming in asking about the origin of "Blue Dog Democrats" -- a group of House Dems who are playing a significant role in the negotiations over President Obama's attempt to overhaul the health care system.

Here's how I answered the question back in 2001, when Political Junkie ran on the Washington Post Web site. It came from Russell Lundberg of Chicago:

With all of the media attention on Rep. Gary Condit (D-Calif.), I have heard several mentions of the "Blue Dog Democrats." I've also heard about "yellow dog Democrats" (people who would sooner vote for a yellow dog than for a Republican). Are there any other colored canines out there? Or alternately, what factions exist in Congress currently, and what are some of the more creative names for factions in Congress historically?

You define "yellow dog Democrats" correctly. William Safire's "New Political Dictionary" says that the term goes back to the 1928 election. Sen. Tom Heflin (D-Ala.) bolted the Dems because they nominated as their presidential candidate Al Smith, the governor of New York and a Catholic. While Heflin supported Republican Herbert Hoover, others from Alabama stuck with Smith and popularized the line, "I'd vote for a yellow dog if he ran on the Democratic ticket." This was during the days when voting Republican in the South was considered heresy, a view that lasted -- for the most part -- until Barry Goldwater came along in 1964.

The Blue Dogs are a group of about 30 conservative-leaning House Democrats (including Condit) who came together in 1995 to combat the liberal tendencies of their party. Their name, clearly a play on "yellow dog Democrats," is said to come from former Rep. Pete Geren (D-Texas), who said that the members have been "choked blue" by Democrats from the left. The group's members have become the balance of power in the closely-divided House and are the descendants of a faction of Southern Democrats known as the Boll Weevils, best remembered for their crucial backing of President Ronald Reagan's tax cuts in the early 1980s.

I don't know of any other shades of canine on the rainbow, but there's a group of conservative House Republicans called "CATS" - about 40 or so members of the Conservative Action Team, led by Arizona's John Shadegg. Unlike the real cats and dogs, these groups get along quite nicely. On the other side of the spectrum is a group of liberal Democrats who have formed the "Progressive Caucus." There's also the "Tuesday Group," which is comprised of about two dozen moderate House Republicans, whose ranks once included Jim Jeffords of Vermont.