WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A group of about 35 conservative Democrats find
themselves at the center of attention as Capitol Hill leaders grapple with the
presidential election saga and the notion of governing the nation with a deeply
The conservative Democrats are known as Blue Dogs. They get their name from Southern "Yellow Dog Democrats," who were known to be so loyal to the party they would vote for a yellow dog if it were listed as a Democrat on the ballot. The Blue Dogs said their conservative views had been "choked blue" by the Democratic Party.
The Bush campaign this week reached out to these so-called "Blue Dogs" on three fronts:
Asking the conservative Democrats to help George W. Bush govern the nation, if he wins the presidency.
Charming a handful by gauging their interest in working in a Bush White House.
Asking a number of them to cross party lines and back the Texas governor if the election is thrown to the House.
Bones for Blue Dogs
On the job front, Reps. Allen Boyd of Florida, Charles Stenholm of Texas,
Collin Peterson of Minnesota and Ralph Hall of Texas have reportedly received
overtures about jobs at the departments of Agriculture and Energy in a Bush administration.
Not to be outdone, Vice President Al Gore asked his running mate, Sen.
Joseph Lieberman, D-Connecticut, and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Missouri, to hold a conference call with the Blue Dogs in hopes of keeping their support while Gore carries out his legal challenges. That conference call Tuesday was followed by personal calls from Gephardt on Wednesday.
Many Blue Dogs -- particularly those from conservative districts in
Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi -- reported receiving hundreds of phone calls
and e-mails from Bush supporters urging them to ask Gore to concede. At this
point, however, most of these Democrats said they are sticking by the vice
"It's logical for Bush to reach out to us," Boyd said. "But the
phone-banking, demonstrations and orchestrated calls are having a polarizing
Only Hall, the Texan who had endorsed Bush before the election, has broken ranks.
Rep. Martin Frost, a Texan who is a member of the Democratic leadership
and not a Blue Dog, said Gephardt's overtures have worked.
"The caucus has been very united across the spectrum: conservatives,
moderates and liberals working for a common legislative agenda. As long as Tom
DeLay and Dick Armey keep taking outrageous positions, very few Democrats are
going to cooperate," he said, referring to Republican leaders in the House.
Blue Dogs aim to be top dogs
But there may be more than party loyalty that's holding together the
Democrats. An aide to one Blue Dog said some of these conservative Democrats
may be using this opportunity to raise their profiles around the Capitol and to
land plum committee assignments.
But, the aide insisted, Democratic leaders are not offering committee
assignments in return for support of the vice president. "It's more subtle than that," the aide said, "but still in play."
Blue Dogs, many of whom are Southern, want to raise their profiles
because they say they are tired of being shunned by their liberal Northeastern
and West Coast brethren.
The Blue Dogs believe they will provide the Democrats with the majority
in the House come 2002 and point to the three new Blue Dogs elected to the
House this year.
On top of that, these conservative Democrats say they represent the
party's contribution to what will be, along with moderate Republicans, the
governing coalition in the 107th Congress.
Several pointed to their plan last year to tie a minimum wage hike with a
small business tax cut as an example of their ability to legislate from a
position of compromise.
And while several Blue Dogs said this week they differ with Bush on
issues from tax cuts to prescription drug coverage, they will find a way to
work with him if he's elected.
But they would rather work with Gore, they said.