Midterm Losses Bite Blue Dog Democrats Conservative and centrist Democrats were defeated in the House in large numbers this week. Especially hard-hit was the Blue Dog Coalition -- only 23 of its 54 members were re-elected, and it lost two of its leaders, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin of South Dakota and Baron Hill of Indiana.

Midterm Losses Bite Blue Dog Democrats

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Couple of items to follow this week's election. First, Democrat Nancy Pelosi will have to hand over the speaker's gavel when the new Congress convenes in January. But despite the Republican takeover of the House, she says she'll run to keep her job as leader of House Democrats.

Many of those who lost their seats were conservative and centrist Democrats, members of the so-called Blue Dog Coalition.

NPR's Debbie Elliott's been tracking the fallout from this week's election, joins us for a look at this group now.

Debbie, thanks so much for being with us.


SIMON: And tell us what happened to the Blue Dog Coalition, as some conservative Democrats are called.

ELLIOTT: Well, they really - to use the president's words - took a shellacking. This was a caucus that had 54 members, had grown in ranks in recent years, it's down to 23 - less than half its size after Tuesday's election. They even lost two of their leaders, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin of South Dakota and Baron Hill of Indiana. So it's a caucus now that doesn't have the clout that it once had. And Scott, I guess we should remind people that these Blue Dog Democrats come from what we would consider swing districts, places that might have been red. They're moderate Democrats. You walk the halls of Congress and you see signs out in front of their doors. They track the national debt. That's their big issue. Fiscal conservatism is what they say. And in the past two election cycles Democrats really reached out to them and helped really make gains in some areas that were very red, and we saw that reversed.

SIMON: Arguably, the Democrats wouldn't have been able to win control of the House four years ago and two years ago unless they had a lot of Blue Dog Democrats.

ELLIOTT: Unless they made gains in these swing districts, and we saw all that wiped away this week.

SIMON: What happened? I know there's a lot of analysis going on.

ELLIOTT: You know, I think if you talk the Blue Dogs themselves, they think it's because this election was so nationalized. They tried everything they could. You know, some of their ads made them sound like Republicans. A few of them even said we're not going to vote for Speaker Pelosi; if you reelect me, I won't vote for her for speaker. They touted their votes against the Democratic agenda, against health care, against stimulus, but it just wasn't enough. And they think it was a nationalized election. You had a D by your name and that's all that voters could see. Now, talking with voters in some of those districts...

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

ELLIOTT: ...it was a little bit trickier. They were frustrated, I think, seeing how on one hand you stand up and you say I voted against health care. But there are some Democrats in your district who might have wanted to see you vote for health care. So there was this tricky line they were trying to walk, defending their votes while at the same time standing up for the Democratic Party's agenda, and it just didn't work this time.

SIMON: So voting against some of President Obama's legislation wasn't enough to impress a lot of Republicans this time and it might have been just enough to irritate some Democrats.

ELLIOTT: Or maybe, you know, leave those Democrats not so motivated to get out to the polls.

SIMON: What does this do to the Democratic Party that remains in the House now?

ELLIOTT: I think you'll see it swing much more to the left. If you look at the progressive caucus in the House, it retained nearly all of its members, so that caucus remains and has more power. You also see white Southern Democrats with much less of a voice. In fact, in the Deep South states there is now only one white Southern Democrat still standing, and that's John Barrow of Georgia.

I talked with Allen Boyd, who is a seven-term Blue Dog from Florida - from North Florida - who was defeated, and he sort of lamented the fact that the polarization that we've seen in recent years in Congress is only going to get worse with the demise of the middle. Here's what he had to say.

Representative ALLEN BOYD (Democrat, Florida): I've been there 14 years and I bet you I could count on one hand the number of times in the U.S. House of Representatives that the leader of the Democratic Party and the leader of the Republican Party have met privately in one or the other's office. They sit across the halls from each other scheming and plotting about how to make the other guy look bad instead of working together to figure out how to solve problems.

SIMON: There are 23 Blue Dog Democrats left in Congress, right?


SIMON: And what kind of clout do they have now?

ELLIOTT: I think that remains to be seen. They don't have the numbers they had but they think they can still be that bridge. You know, you've still got a Democratic controlled Senate. So if Republicans in the House really want to push their agenda, they're going to have to have some way to reach out to Democrats and the Blue Dogs are going to make the case that we are the people who can help you do that.

SIMON: NPR national correspondent Debbie Elliott, thank you.

ELLIOTT: Thank you, Scott.

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