Voter anger at out-of-control government spending and mounting debt ironically proved toxic for many of the most fiscally conservative Democrats in Tuesday’s midterm vote.
At least 23 of the 53 House Democratic “Blue Dogs” - including such rising stars as South Dakota’s Stephanie Herseth Sandlin - lost their seats in the wave Tuesday that brought down at least 61 Democrats and handed control of the chamber back to Republicans.
Mrs. Herseth Sandlin, the coalition’s co-chairman for administration, and Rep. Baron P. Hill of Indiana, co-chairman for policy, headed a long list of members of the influential Democratic coalition punished by voters Tuesday.
The list could get longer: At least four races involving Blue Dogs hung in the balance Wednesday. The caucus of conservative-to-moderate Democrats also lost three members to retirement and two members left to pursue Senate seats - unsuccessfully.
With most of their members representing Republican-leaning or swing districts, the Blue Dogs struggled this fall to distance themselves from key Obama policies such as the health care law and the $814 billion stimulus package. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was also an electoral drag in a large majority of Blue Dog districts.
Blue Dog Rep. Gene Taylor of Mississippi lost his bid for re-election despite telling constituents that he’d voted for John McCain in 2008 and promising voters he would work with the GOP to repeal the health care overhaul.
Mr. Taylor, an 11-term congressman, lost a close race to Republican Steve Palazzo, a state lawmaker from Biloxi who relentlessly hammered on the incumbent’s vote for Mrs. Pelosi as speaker.
In one bright spot for the endangered Democrats, Rep. Heath Shuler, also a member of the Blue Dogs’ four-person leadership team, pulled away in his North Carolina race, winning 54 percent to 45 percent, after talking openly in the later stages of the campaign about opposing Mrs. Pelosi for the House speakership.
Another Blue Dog official, Rep. Jim Matheson won by a similar margin in Utah after also talking about opposing Mrs. Pelosi. The congressman told The Washington Times in October that “if a member of the Democratic Caucus - someone closer to my beliefs - were to run, I’d have to consider that.”
Alison Heyrend, a Matheson spokesman, said Wednesday the coalition’s losses Tuesday were “disheartening … especially since these were the kind of work-across-the-aisle congressmen and women who are going to be needed more than ever in Washington.”
Before the midterm elections, both Mr. Shuler and Mr. Matheson speculated that the Blue Dogs would be a vital swing voting bloc in the new Congress. But the extent of the group’s losses, combined with the margin of the Republican’s House majority, may have undercut the group’s leverage.
Other prominent Blue Dogs who fell short Tuesday included:
c Maryland’s 1st District freshman Rep. Frank Kratovil Jr., who tried to position himself as the most conservative member of Maryland’s congressional delegation but lost to Republican state lawmaker Andy Harris by a 54 percent to 44 percent margin.
c Alabama’s 2nd District Rep. Bobby Bright, who also became a one-term congressman in a district that usually rewards incumbents. Mr. Bright, known as one of the most conservative Democrats in the House, lost 51 percent to 49 percent to Republican Martha Roby, who had been serving on the Montgomery City Council.
c Pennsylvania’s 8th District, where Blue Dog Rep. Patrick J. Murphy joined a wave of Democrats shown the door in the Keystone State. Mr. Murphy lost to former Republican Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick - the man he beat to win the seat in the swing district four years ago.