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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

‘Dawn of the New Blue Dogs’ Overstated

Alex Isenstadt’s Politico post “Running as a Dem, Sounding Like a Republican” suggests a “blue dog rising” trend aborning among Dems running for House seats in 2014, incumbents and challengers alike. Isenstadt argues that Dems are embracing Republican memes not only in red states, but also “in purple or even blue territory.”
Isenstadt does provide some examples:

Colorado Democrat Andrew Romanoff, who’s running in a district that Obama won in 2012 and 2008, has started airing a commercial that strikes a tea party theme. It highlights his record as speaker of the state House of Representatives when, he says, he helped balance the state’s budget…”It’s really pretty simple. You don’t buy things you can’t pay for,” Romanoff states.
As Romanoff narrates, a graph of the nation’s soaring debt pops up on the screen. The image looks strikingly similar to one that appears in a Web video Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan released in 2011 to sell his controversial budget plan, though a Romanoff spokeswoman insisted that the campaign hadn’t borrowed from the former GOP vice presidential contender.
New Hampshire Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, whose district broke for Obama by a yawning 11-percentage-point margin in 2012, is running an ad that touts her support for small-business tax cuts while showing her touring a local microbrewery. Separately, former Iowa state Sen. Staci Appel, in a district Obama won by 4 percentage points two years ago, underscores her record of fighting overspending in state government, a populist theme often heard from tea party-aligned conservatives.
Democratic Rep. Ron Barber, in a swing southern Arizona district that is slightly more conservative than the others, uses his first TV spot to highlight his support for increasing border security funds. The ad — complete with the image of a border patrol car — doesn’t mention elements of immigration reform that are typically more popular among Democratic voters.
Like the commercials aired by Romanoff, Kuster and Appel, Barber’s doesn’t mention his Democratic Party affiliation.
Democrats who have the especially high hurdle of competing in deep-red districts are striking multiple conservative themes. Democrat Patrick Henry Hays, the North Little Rock mayor who’s running in an Arkansas district that Mitt Romney won in 2012, uses his first TV ad to discuss the need for a balanced budget, limited government regulations and less wasteful spending. Like Romanoff, Hays includes a graphic to depict the national debt…”I approve this message because it’s simple,” Hays says. “You cut waste, you pay your bills, and you do everything in your power to create jobs. That’s what we need in Congress.”

Those are five interesting examples of Dems putting on a little blue dog lipstick to steal a quick kiss from high turnout seniors and other demographic groups who tend to show up at midterm polling sites. But it’s a bit of a stretch to imply that 5 races out of 435 constitute a big trend. Nor do Republicans have a monopoly on budgetary prudence. There have always been Democrats who are more concerned about moderation in spending than many of their party fellows, and there always will be. That’s life in the big tent.
Isenstadt quotes a grumbling Democratic strategist, who is concerned about Dems losing their populist edge and his Republican counterpart, who says it just goes to show how lame are Dems who copy Republicans. Both are stock characters in this biennial playlet.
What we are not seeing much of among such Democrats is the over-the-top government, immigrant, union or gay-bashing that prevails among many tea party types and, increasingly, Republicans in general. There’s none of the pod-people finger-pointing contagion that afflicts today’s GOP.
Maybe the better story is that so few Republicans are embracing moderate messages in their campaigns. Isenstadt offers only one example.
It’s pretty much biz as usual for Democratic mid term candidates. As congressional races begin to narrow, there will be some movement toward moderation in messaging, perhaps more so on the Democratic side. But anyone looking for a sea change in Democratic policy will likely be disappointed.

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