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On the Hill
Dog days for conservative House Democrats
This year’s midterm primaries could be especially brutal for the conservative Democratic Blue Dog Coalition. One of its members appears close to losing a primary with the final votes still to be tallied and two others could be defeated in Tuesday’s elections, further diminishing the waning influence the once-powerful coalition had in the party.
And that’s ahead of general elections where many in the group will be top Republican targets in an election year that is supposed to be unfavorable to Democrats. Oh, and three lawmakers in the 19-member group have announced they are retiring or seeking a different office.
Tuesday’s action involving Blue Dogs will be all about the intraparty fight between moderates and progressives with the focus on the races of Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.) and Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux (D-Ga.).
Cuellar is facing a runoff against progressive Jessica Cisneros, who’s racked up endorsements from liberal heavyweights Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). It’s a rematch from the 2020 campaign but after Politico published a draft opinion that showed the Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, Cuellar’s path to victory appears to have become more difficult. Cuellar is the last remaining antiabortion Democrat in the House.
“It used to be that the only way to be a Texas Democrat was to be a Blue Dog-Manchin Democrat,” said Waleed Shahid of Justice Democrats, a group that backs progressive candidates in Democratic primaries, referring to centrist Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.). Cisneros is “showing that the future of the party looks a bit more like AOC than the Blue Dogs, especially with abortion rights on the line.”
Because of redistricting, Bourdeaux is locked in a primary against fellow incumbent Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.). Progressives have backed McBath against Bourdeaux, who was one of the final holdouts when House Democrats worked to pass President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, which eventually stalled in the Senate due to the objections of Manchin and another centrist, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).
The Blue Dogs were once one of the most powerful subgroup of lawmakers on Capitol Hill. This was particularly true during the early years of the Obama administration when with more than 50 members they pushed to keep budget deficits in check and to moderate liberal policies.
Their sheer numbers and political proximity to the majority-making moderate districts gave them a tremendous amount of influence among leadership and helped to steer legislation — most often to the center. For instance, the Blue Dogs were a driving force behind preventing a public option — a top priority for liberals — from being included in the Affordable Care Act.
2010: A devastating year
But the 2010 midterms, a disastrously bad year for all House Democrats, proved especially tragic for the Blue Dogs. They lost 28 members — half of their coalition — that election. And their numbers have continued to ebb and flow in the teens with just 19 House Democrats making up the group now, even as the socially conservative component of its agenda has faded, leaving its fiscally cautious stance as its remaining defining characteristic.
This election cycle could be just as difficult, even with their already shrunken ranks.
Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) appears to be on the losing end of a primary held last week even with Biden’s endorsement, although the ballots continue to be counted.
Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), co-chair of the Blue Dog Coalition, warns of knocking Blue Dogs off in primaries with more liberal candidates. She says it is bad politics for the party because a moderate stands a better chance of winning the general election in these areas.
“Blue dogs hold seats in red districts,” she told The Early. “Blue Dogs can be the canary in the coalmine.”
But swing districts and red-district Democrats are the most likely to lose reelection. Several Blue Dog members are at risk in November, including co-chair Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-Ariz.), Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine) and Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.).
Redistricting has also helped to decimate Blue Dog ranks as fewer congressional districts are competitive and more fit into solidly blue or red categories. Murphy notes that primaries favor the activist base which is causing “extremists in both parties” to be overrepresented in Congress. “They’re making it more difficult to govern,” she said.
Retirements are also a culprit this year. Murphy is one of three Blue Dogs who are leaving Congress. She explored a run for Senate against Sen. March Rubio (R-Fla.) but the Democratic establishment favored more progressive candidate Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.). Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.) is running run for governor and longtime Blue Dog Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) is retiring after determining he had no chance of winning his Nashville-area district after it was changed during the redistricting process.
Matt Bennett, co-founder of Third Way, a policy group that advocates for moderate policies, noted that just as conservative Democrats are becoming a rare breed in Congress there are even fewer liberal Republicans.
“I think that the Democratic caucus will be a little less than a big tent than it was before,” Bennett said. “Having a big tent in a narrow majority has been really tough on Biden but it’s better for the health of the party.”
Bennett added that the New Democrat Coalition, which has 98 members — nearly half of the Democratic caucus — has replaced the Blue Dogs. But the New Democrats, while supporting more business friendly policies than their liberal colleagues is less conservative than the Blue Dogs. And its members also rarely break from Democratic leadership or cause it the type of headaches the Blue Dogs have over the years.
It’s Primary Day in four states, including Arkansas. Here’s what you need to know about tonight’s biggest races:
Georgia: “The country’s 45th president, Donald Trump, and his onetime governing partner, Mike Pence, held dueling events on Monday night for their favored candidates ahead of Georgia’s highly anticipated Republican gubernatorial primary, in what could presage a potential fight over the future of the Republican Party,” our colleagues Josh Dawsey, Annie Linskey and Mariana Alfaro report.
- “Dramatically breaking with his former boss, Pence held an ebullient rally with Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) on the eve of an election the governor is expected to win. Meanwhile, Trump appeared at a tele-town hall with the man he recruited to oust Kemp, whom he blames for not working feverishly enough to overturn the 2020 presidential election results there: former senator David Perdue (R).”
- “The split-screen symbolism was stark between a once-obsequious vice president and Trump … If Kemp wins on Tuesday as expected, it would be a significant setback for Trump, who goaded a reluctant Perdue into competing against him, political observers say.”
- “Trump’s political clout will also be tested in two other races: the Senate contest where ex-NFL star Herschel Walker is expected to win the GOP nod to face Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D); and the secretary of state race between Brad Raffensperger and Trump’s pick, Rep. Jody Hice (R).”
Texas runoff will test Democratic divisions over abortion, immigration
Texas: “The latest battle in the fight for power in the Democratic Party between centrists and liberals will be decided here [today], in a runoff between Rep. Henry Cuellar and challenger Jessica Cisneros that has pitted top members of Congress against left-leaning activists,” our colleague David Weigel reports.
- “Tens of thousands of primary voters will decide whether to nominate Cuellar, 66, the only antiabortion Democrat in the U.S. House, or go with Cisneros, an immigration attorney who turns 29 on Tuesday. Cisneros has focused sharply in the closing stage of the race on abortion, while Cuellar has kept his campaign pointed toward border security.”
- “Tuesday’s vote will test the potency of these two polarizing issues in a region that has shifted to the right in recent elections. Cisneros, who’s raised $4.5 million, has called Cuellar the ‘Joe Manchin’ of Texas, comparing him to the conservative West Virginia Democrat whose votes have blocked liberal priorities on health care, child care and abortion rights.”
Abandoned by Trump, Mo Brooks looks to make a comeback
Alabama: Rep. Mo Brooks is trying to make “a clear case to primary voters that he’s the most pro-Trump candidate in the three-way [Senate] race — even if the former president dramatically left his campaign for dead and feuds with him in public,” our colleague Isaac Arnsdorf writes.
- “There are signs that Brooks’s gambit is working. Local observers and recent surveys suggest the race is tightening, and in place of the Trump endorsement, Brooks has picked up support from other Republicans who are delicately working to stake competing claims to Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ movement without antagonizing Trump himself.”
- “The big-spending national conservative group the Club for Growth, which has increasingly taken positions contrary to Trump’s endorsements this year, pumped more than $4 million into Brooks’s race, according to Federal Election Commission reports.”
- “Brooks’s resilience is surprising for a candidate whose Senate hopes appeared crushed when Trump in March renounced the congressman, who was a top backer of Trump’s false claims of a stolen 2020 election. Polling at the time showed Brooks languishing in third place, in danger of not making a runoff and lagging in fundraising against two flush opponents seeking to replace retiring Sen. Richard C. Shelby. But being counted out may have cleared a path for Brooks’s comeback.”
At the White House
Biden insists no change in Taiwan policy amid Quad meetings to counter China
A trip to remember: “President Biden stressed Tuesday that his policy toward Taiwan had not changed, one day after forcefully pledging — as he has done before — that the United States would defend the island if it came under assault by neighboring China,” our colleagues Seung Min Kim, Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Cleve R. Wootson Jr. report.
- “After meeting jointly with the three other Quad leaders, Biden talked separately with Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister, in a potentially complicated sit-down. India remains one of the most powerful outliers among the world’s largest democracies that have declined to condemn Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.”
A White House readout of the meeting said only Biden “condemned Russia’s unjustifiable war against Ukraine,” although the two leaders jointly pledged to work on matters of humanitarian aid and rising energy and food prices. India’s readout of the meeting made no mention of Russia.
Trump’s endorsement win rate, visualized: “Nearly all of Trump’s endorsees — of whom most were incumbents — won in primaries so far,” our colleagues Youjin Shin, Courtney Beesch and Anu Narayanswamy report.
- “Trump’s first loss in the midterms came last week as agribusiness executive Charles Herbster, who has been accused of sexually assaulting multiple women, failed to win the nomination for Nebraska governor. Rep. Madison Cawthorn (N.C.), a freshman congressman, was endorsed by the former president — but it was not enough to overcome a widespread Republican campaign to take him down. And Trump’s pick in the Idaho governor’s race, Janice McGeachin, lost to incumbent Gov. Brad Little.”
What we’re reading:
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