Monday, November 17, 2014

Last Days of the Blue Dogs

Even after a record $4 billion spent on the midterm elections, the national voter turnout was the lowest in over 70 years -- 36.3 percent. Typically, the midterms draw 40 to 42 percent, still well below the presidential election years, which is typically 60 percent.  Yet, the Republicans consider this vote a mandate of their beliefs.  Whatever they are?

With so much apparently riding on the line, you would have thought voters to come out in droves, instead they seemed to be battened down in their homes after a media blitzkrieg like none ever before in midterm elections.  Campaign spending in 2014 dwarfed that in 2010, when the Republicans similarly swept the country in midterm elections, retaking the House of Representatives in unprecedented fashion, as well as key governor races.  

Texas had an abysmal  28.5% voter turnout, in what had once been seen as a hotly contested governor's race between Wendy Davis and Greg Abbott.    Wendy failed to ignite the electorate even with The Daily Show making a special appearance in Austin in the run-up to the election.  Unfortunately, for the woman in pink Mizunos it was a "Democalypse," as it was for many Democrats across the country.

Now, the surviving Democrats all appear to be tacking right in Red States, like Claire McCaskill in Missouri, who the Democrats spent big bucks on to keep her Senate seat in 2012.  Apparently, she now has eyes on the governor's mansion in 2016.  The Blue Dogs appear to be uniting around Keystone, a show of faith, if you will, to their electorate that they are willing to work with Republicans.  

Of course, that has always been the case with Blue Dog Democrats.  It is a term that dates back to 1995 when Texas Democrat Pete Geren felt he was being "choked blue" by Democrats on the Left, and threw his support behind Republican bills in Congress.  He was eventually rewarded for his efforts by the Bush administration, which made him US Secretary of the Air Force.  

By 2010, the Blue Dog Coalition had pretty much been replaced by Republicans in Congress, making you wonder how it held together.  Obviously, it didn't pay to be a Democrat in red states even if you were willing to cast your lot behind conservative causes, and local Democrats viewed these "Blue Dogs" as little more than sellouts.  Still the Democratic National Committee (DNC) tried to hold onto these seats by pouring money into their campaigns.  There are still enough of them left to turn votes in the Senate, which is what Mary Landrieu is desperately trying to do on Keystone, but most likely she will be gone by January, replaced by a Republican.

Mercifully, this Republican majority may be short lived come 2016, as they have planted themselves on the wrong side of key issues and Presidential election years don't usually bode well for them in Congress.  Plus, they have 24 Senate seats to defend, whereas the Democrats have only 10, not counting potential retirements.  For once, an election favors the Democrats.

Unfortunately, Democrats have shown themselves time and time again to be their own worst enemies, as this incredibly low turnout shows.  Had they presented a united front, building their campaigns on a resurgent economy, a successful health insurance exchange program, and meaningful immigration reform, I'm sure they could have turned out more voters.  Instead, they played right into the Republicans' strategy of presenting the United States as a country in chaos by challenging their own President on everything from immigration reform to his policy in the Middle East.  

Maybe "Fair Weather Democrats" would be a better name for these Blue Dogs, as they only seem to identify themselves as Democrats when it suits their interests.


  1. The turnaround in this election pales in comparison to the midterm of 1938 when Democrats lost a whopping 72 House seats and 7 Senate seats to Republicans. No one called it a rejection of FDR who two years later made history by winning an unprecedented third term.

    There’s no denying that Obama is suffering through sagging job approval ratings but this election was not entirely about how voters feel about him. The yen for change often works against the party in power when restless voters disgusted with incumbents look for new blood to shake things up. But reducing this to rejection of Obama is the usual post-election media kneejerk tendency to simplify the outcome for people who are too lazy to think.

  2. Good point. As I recall, the turnaround came largely over FDR's attempt to stack the Supreme Court, not the New Deal.

    Sadly, the Republicans once again got away with framing the narrative in this election, which I've commented on in past posts. For whatever foolish reason, the Democrats chose to run away from Obama because they felt this was the "mood" of the country, when most Democrats stood behind Obama. As a result, much fewer Democrats turned out to vote, which I think hurt Hagan, Crist, and others who were in very tight elections.

    I just can't believe the Republicans got away with this, given how well the economy has been doing recently. Usually, Americans vote their pocket book, but that didn't seem the case this time around. Ideology trumps economics, at least in the religious conservative world of the Republicans.

  3. James,

    You wrote, “For whatever foolish reason, the Democrats chose to run away from Obama because they felt this was the "mood" of the country, when most Democrats stood behind Obama.”

    A case in point is the Udall/Gardner race in Colorado. The GOP ran attack ads saying Udall voted with Obama 90% of the time. I grimaced when Udall responded by citing the times he "stood up to the President on certain issues. Udall might have kept his seat had he responded with, ‘Yes, I voted with the President most of the time and thanks for pointing that out for me.’ He then could have explained why in a forceful way to put Republicans on the defensive. Had he done so, Colorado voters might have responded affirmatively. Voters can be inspired by candidates who show confidence as Gardner did.

    This year, Democrats were unprepared on how to stand their ground. You can get soft when you’re in power. Meanwhile, the opposition that is hungry to get back in smells the scent of blood. 2014 was much like 2010 when Bush with two years left to go had approval ratings even lower approval ratings than Obama does now. Democrats seized the initiative and won. The party that’s out of power has an easier time motivating its base to get out and vote. That was the case for the Democrats in 2010 and for the GOP this year.


  4. Correction,

    I meant to say the 2006 midterm election, not 2010. Sorry.


  5. I think the Dems thought that the electorate wouldn't vote against a resurging economy, not taking into account how ideological these campaigns have become. They also did a very poor job mobilizing the base of the party for the reason you describe. A 6 per cent better turnout, especially in states like Colorado and North Carolina, would have probably kept the Democrats in power in the Senate. Not only did they run away from Obama, but they ran away from the base of their party.