2010: (Not) The Year of the Blue Dog

| Tue Nov. 2, 2010 9:30 PM EDT

It's a scary world out there for Democrats—even conservative ones who did their best to distance themselves from their party this election season. Exhibit A is Georgia Blue Dog Rep. Jim Marshall, who was just defeated by Republican Austin Scott. During the campaign, Marshall attempted to side-step the Democratic backlash by denouncing Nancy Pelosi (on TV, too). Hey, the strategy seemed to work for the Republicans. Of course, Marshall's pledge to support anyone except Pelosi for speaker hinged on the optimistic assumption that the Dems would hang onto the House. That ain't happening.

Moderates like Marshall were a persistent thorn in Pelosi's side, throwing up roadblocks to health care and financial reform, and ultimately foiling efforts to pass climate and energy legislation. A Marshall loss could be a bellwhether for moderate Democrats around the country. Third Way, "the leading moderate think-tank of the progressive movement," recently released a memo rejecting the "small tent," anti-Blue Dog prescription advocated most recently by liberal commentator Ari Berman. Just how big a tent does the Dem circus need?

Both politically and substantively, liberals need moderates. By rejecting the big-tent coalition that brought them power in the first place, the only things Democrats will accomplish are permanent minority status and the frustration of their legislative priorities. . . .

According to Gallup, 42% of Americans now call themselves "conservative," while 35% call themselves "moderate" and only 20% consider themselves “liberal.” Liberals aren’t just the smallest political constituency in America; they’re outnumbered 4 to 1 by moderates and conservatives. In no state are liberals either a majority or a plurality.

Liberal Democrats need the votes of centrist Democrats, Third Way argues. And they're what the voters want. Without them, the party could make a considerable lurch leftward. For now, though, it's becoming clear that moving to the right in this election wasn't a winning strategy. 

The next Blue Dog to watch? Kentucky's Ben Chandler, who's currently holds a narrow lead. Fellow Blue Dog Joe Donnelly of Indiana barely managed to hang on to his seat.