After Party’s Rout, a Blue Dog Won’t Back Down
Since surviving [the November 2 election for his third term as congressman representing North Carolina’s 11th District, Rep. Heath] Shuler has emerged as one of most prominent voices in the debate on the Democratic Party’s immediate future. He was among the first to call for Ms. Pelosi to step down from her leadership role in the new Congress and said he would run for minority leader himself if no alternative emerged (though he admitted that he would be an underdog).
The Democrats’ achievements in the last Congress, Mr. Shuler said, are unpopular with the public because the party’s leadership has been too reflexively partisan. He says a more moderate approach is needed.
“It’s my guys that worked probably harder than any group in Washington, did all the right things, voted the right way and still got beat for the simple fact that you’ve got the far edges running the Congress,” he said.
His guys are the members of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of conservative Democrats who came together after the Republican sweep of 1994, and, boy, did they ever have a bad Election Day this year. Twenty-four of the bloc’s 58 members were defeated, including two of its four leaders (Mr. Shuler is the coalition’s whip). Four other Blue Dogs are retiring this year.
In 2008, 50 Democratic House members were elected in districts that President Obama failed to carry. This month, voters in only 12 of those districts returned Democrats to Congress. Two of those districts are in North Carolina, including Mr. Shuler’s.
“North Carolina is just kind of a different place,” said Jim Hunt, a Democrat who is the longest-serving governor — two tenures that totaled 16 years — in the state’s history. “It’s going to always be about the middle of the road.”