What Is a “Blue-Dog” Democrat?

“Mr. Bush’s advisers believe he can draw support from the Blue-Dog Democrats, a conservative Democratic caucus,” says today’s New York Times. Just what are the Blue-Dog Democrats, and how did they get their name?

The Blue-Dog Coalition is a group of 32 Democratic House members who primarily push an agenda of fiscal conservativism. The group is expected to expand in January when five newly elected members endorsed by the coalition, the Blue Pups, are sworn in. The group was formed in 1995 to push a balanced federal budget. Now that the government is running surpluses, they are turning their attention to reducing the national debt. They also have been active in welfare reform. The group takes it name from a play on the phrase “Yellow-Dog Democrat” which was coined, according to William Safire, in 1928 to describe Southern Democrats who held their nose and supported the party’s presidential candidate New Yorker Al Smith. Alabama Sen. Tom Heflin said, “I’d vote for a yellow dog if he ran on the Democratic ticket.” The name also comes from the paintings of Louisiana artist George Rodrigue, who has donated prints of his famous canine as a fund-raising vehicle for the group. On its Web site, the group says that conservative Democrats had been “choked blue” by the party’s more liberal leadership. A term you won’t hear Democrats applying to themselves anymore is “boll weevil,” which is what conservative Southern members of Congress called themselves in the 1950s–it has fallen out of favor because of an anti-civil rights taint. The Senate has its own version of the Blue Dogs, which formed in 1999 and has about 20 members. It is the prosaically named New Democrat Coalition.

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Explainer thanks Becca Tice of the office of Rep. Charles Stenholm, D-Texas, and Bette Phelan of the office of Sen. John Breaux, D-La.