Jared Golden wants to make the Democratic Blue Dogs relevant in Congress again.
In this June 28, 2022, file photo, U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat from Maine's 2nd District, takes a tour of renovations at Husson University in Bangor. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

A version of this article was originally published in The Daily Brief, our Maine politics newsletter. Sign up here for daily news and insight from politics editor Michael Shepherd.

After winning a third term in 2022, U.S. Rep. Jared Golden of Maine’s 2nd District is taking on a new role that could be described as a rebuilding project.

He is the new administrative and communications chair of the Blue Dog Coalition, meaning he effectively leads the group of centrist Democrats that once comprised a crucial voting bloc in Washington. In his first act, Golden is trying to keep the group close to the action on a debt standoff.

How membership fell: The Blue Dogs started in the 1990s to protest what members saw as their party’s sharp shift to the left, mostly featuring members from the South. In 2006, the caucus hit a high of 64 members, and it was instrumental in getting a public option extracted from the Affordable Care Act. 

Since then, Democrats from old Blue Dog areas have lost their seats, and Washington has become more polarized. Golden is now leading a caucus of just seven members, after seven left as part of what Politico called an internal dispute about whether to rebrand the group. 

Golden downplayed the idea of a major spat among the Blue Dogs in an interview, saying the prominent members who left had their own reasons for doing so. His political strategist, Bobby Reynolds, will staff the group and lead its political work.

The plan: It will now be Golden’s job to keep the Blue Dogs close to the action in situations where they can influence it. That won’t happen if Republicans stay united on measures, but those measures are not going to pass in the Senate without consensus given the 60-vote filibuster.

This week, the Blue Dogs told President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-California, that it would work in earnest to broker a spending deal to avert a debt crisis later this year. Any such deal would likely begin in the House, where McCarthy has a narrow majority, but it needs to clear the Senate, too.

The Blue Dogs have historically been focused on fiscal issues and have rarely taken collective positions on social ones. The group will not be influential on every issue and will not try to be, Golden said. Golden believes his group can be influential in situations like the debt standoff, especially after McCarthy struggled to consolidate party support for his speaker bid.

“There’s going to be times when, just because of the nature of where these two parties are right now, McCarthy is going to lose people on the far right,” he said. “There may be enough Dems able to and willing to cover those losses.”

How they could do it: One model for influence could be in the 2021 infrastructure debate, Golden said. He was one of nine Democrats who helped force a vote on the $1.2 trillion bipartisan bill ahead of a larger social spending package favored by Biden and opposed by Golden

The bill is one of the biggest ones passed in Biden’s presidency, and Golden called it “pretty good” for his party. Golden made a case that even the small Blue Dog Coalition can lead Democrats toward similar broadly popular outcomes. 

He also expects the group to grow in the coming weeks, though he did not want to predict by how much and said he thinks it can already have influence.

“Is it going to be a dozen or more?” he said. “Let’s see what kinds of successes we have together and whether or not there’s people that want to be a part of that over time.”

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Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...