by Max Brantley
Michael Tomasky reports in depth in the New York Review of Books on the Blue Dogs in the House and their impact on health and other legislation. Lots of attention to Rep. Mike Ross.
One question addressed: Do these mostly Southern Democrats really have to vote like Republicans on every tough issue?
Certainly, Blue Dogs and other rural Democrats can't vote like Manhattan's Jerry Nadler. Everyone understands that. But it's also not entirely clear that one or two controversial votes would endanger many of these legislators. The current House includes forty-nine Democrats who won in districts where McCain beat Obama, and thirty-four Republicans who won in districts that Obama carried. Forty-nine is a large number, nearly one in five members of the total number of House Democrats. And in many of these districts, McCain beat Obama handily—by 15 or 20 or even 30 percentage points.
And yet all but a small number of these Democrats won their own races by a greater margin than McCain's over Obama in the district. Thirty of them beat their GOP opponents by 10 percentage points more than McCain beat Obama. I calculated these numbers in late July, comparing the Democrats' victory margins to McCain's, determining each Democrat's "margin versus McCain"(MVM). Ross, for example, ran unopposed, scoring an MVM of +67. Melancon also ran unopposed, producing an MVM of +76. Herseth Sandlin's margin was +28, Shuler's +21. Only eight of the forty-nine had negative margins. Minnick's, for example, was –25. He and a handful of others have every right to proceed with caution.
But for the vast majority of members of Congress, once you've been elected and reelected once or twice, it takes either a pretty big scandal or a rare historical tidal wave (as in 1994) to produce defeat. Members know this—in fact, they typically know exactly how many percentage points a certain vote might cost them at the polls. One begins to suspect that some Blue Dogs don't really fear losing as much as they fear facing a semicredible opponent and actually having to campaign hard for a change.
U.S. Rep. Vic Snyder follows an independent course and gets retribution and a steady stream of Republican opponents for his stiffer backbone. A good example is the current round of U.S. Chamber of Commerce-backed attack ads over his health care vote. MoveOn.org is on that case today.