Congressional Blue Dogs in Trouble

A number of Blue Dog Democrats who voted for Obamacare are looking at competitive races this fall and face a good chance of begin unseated.

At least six members of the “Blue Dog Coalition,” a group of 54 House Democrats claiming to be “moderate and conservative” and priding themselves on fiscal responsibility, are facing stiff competition in their bids to keep their seats in November.

Three common-threads stand out as reasons for their vulnerability.

First, fiscal issues are paramount this election, and social issues are taking a backseat to solving the nation’s fiscal and economic woes. “Jobs, jobs, jobs. It’s the economy, stupid,” said Randy Pullen, Arizona’s Republican Party chairman, about the prevalent issue in the state before the immigration issue erupted.

Secondly, a vote for healthcare stands as a major obstacle for any Democrat who resides in a conservative or swing district. The healthcare bill was opposed by a majority of American voters, and in some states like Indiana, it was widely opposed. Many of the Blue Dog Democrats represent moderate or conservative districts, which usually did not support Obamacare.

Third, Blue Dogs residing in right-of-center districts will have to defend their votes for a litany of other liberal Democratic legislation that is unpopular in their districts, such as the stimulus bill and cap-and-trade.

Perhaps the Blue Dog Democrat in the most trouble is Indiana Rep. Brad Ellsworth, running for the state’s open Senate seat. Ellsworth voted for the healthcare bill and is now running for former Sen. Evan Bayh’s seat, but lags far behind his Republican opponent in the race.

Ellsworth, from Indiana’s 8th Congressional District, finds himself 20 points behind his likely Republican opponent, former Sen. Dan Coats, according to a April 19 Rasmussen poll.

Ellsworth also trails two other Republicans seeking the GOP nomination. He is 17 points behind former Rep. John Hostettler, and trails state Sen. Marlin Stutzman by five points.

Hoosiers widely oppose the healthcare bill. A Rasmussen survey of Indiana voters found that 65% favor the repeal of the bill, while only 28% of Indiana voters believe Obamacare will be good for the country.

Ellsworth’s colleague, Rep. Baron Hill (D.-Ind.), from the state’s 9th Congressional District, is also in a tight race. Hill is a member of the Blue Dog Coalition and also voted for health care.

Chris Faulkner, vice president of a political consulting firm in Indiana, told HUMAN EVENTS that the race is indeed tight, and whoever comes out of the GOP primary will at least be even with Hill, if not in the lead. He said that Hill’s vote for healthcare was unpopular with the district.

The 9th district went for Sen. John McCain by five points in the 2008 presidential race, and rotated between GOP candidate Michael Sodrel and Hill for most of the decade. Hill won in 2002, before Sodrel unseated him in 2004. Hill then regained the seat in the Democratic takeover of the House in 2006. Sodrel is currently joined in the Republican primary by Todd Young.

Real Clear Politics’ poll average reports the district as a toss up, while Congressional Quarterly says the race is leaning Democrat.

Faulkner told HUMAN EVENTS that the district is conservative, but has switched hands between parties in presidential elections. The chief issues in the district are fiscal policies.

Two races out West involve Blue Dog incumbents who voted for healthcare and could be in trouble because of it.

Rep. Betsy Markey (D-Colo.), who represents Colorado’s 4th district, is a freshman Democrat who rode the party’s momentum to victory in 2008, but faces a district with a Republican majority of registered voters.

Markey won by 12 points in 2008, however registered Republicans outnumber Democrats in the district by 40,000 and Markey’s vote for healthcare certainly will not attract much support from the other party.

Adam Schrager, a political news reporter for Colorado’s 9News, said that he believes Markey’s vote helped her by energizing her Democratic base. He also added that Markey plans to explain her vote to the district in the coming months, and hopes to garner support of independents that way.

However, he also told HUMAN EVENTS that “the numbers in this district indicate it would be a challenge for a Democrat to win when times are good for their party and it seems that’s not the national feeling right now.”

Rep. Harry Mitchell of Arizona is another Blue Dog Democrat who voted for healthcare. He hails from the state’s 5th Congressional District, and RCP projects his race to be a toss up.

Randy Pullen, Arizona’s Republican Party chairman, told HUMAN EVENTS that the race will be tight. While national momentum favors Republicans, Mitchell is the incumbent and also has about $2 million in the bank for his campaign.

Mitchell voted for healthcare, which Pullen noted would a tough vote for him to defend.

Mitchell won a close race in 2006, and enjoyed a comfortable victory in 2008 when the national mood favored the Democrats. Mitchell also captured the youth vote, winning the support of college students from the Tempe area.

However, Pullen believes Republicans can win the seat. “[Mitchell]’s going to have a problem getting his troops to the polls, and Republicans will be out in force voting, as well as independents who clearly have turned against Democrats as well, this election cycle, so we’re pretty confident that we’re going to win that seat,” Pullen said.

Just South of the Arizona’s 5th district is the 8th district, where Democrat Blue Dog incumbent Gabrielle Giffords faces a Republican opponent who raised $500,000 in the first quarter. However, Giffords holds an incumbent-sized war chest with almost $2 million at her disposal. RCP has reported this race as a toss up; Congressional Quarterly says it leans Democratic.

Giffords’ chief opponent is former state Sen. Jonathan Paton, is endorsed by former Rep. Dick Armey, among others. Also seeking to challenge Giffords is Tea-Party candidate Jesse Kelly, a young construction manager who has the endorsement of Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.).

The district usually votes Republican, including going for McCain by 6 points in 2008, but Giffords has prior experience in the state’s house and senate, and has been successful in running on a moderate ticket and appealing to centrist voters.

Finally, the 3rd and 8th districts in Pennsylvania are both held by Blue Dog Democrats, who will most likely have competitive races in November.

Kathleen Dahlkemper is a freshman congresswoman from the 3rd district, in the Northwest corner of the state. The district went for McCain in 2008 (by 17 votes), and usually votes Republican.

But her support for healthcare brought a flood of threats to her office phone in the days following the March vote. Six candidates are currently vying for the GOP nomination to unseat her.

Dahlkemper, like most incumbents, is well ahead of her opponents in cash. However, in a district that usually votes Republican that she barely won in 2008, her vote for healthcare could play a role in her chances to keep the seat.

Rep. Patrick Murphy (D.-Pa.) hails from the state’s 8th district, in the suburbs of Philadelphia. The district has voted Democratic in the last three presidential elections, and Murphy won the seat in 2006 and cruised to victory in 2008.

However, Murphy’s opponent is the candidate he defeated in 2006 by a slim margin, Michael Fitzpatrick. The RCP rates the race as a toss up, while Congressional Quarterly tabbed Murphy as the likely winner. Murphy has history on his side, but will be fighting Republican momentum this fall, as well as an old foe.