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Blue Dogs try fresh approach

by Jake Sherman

It’s no secret that D.C. these days is bereft of centrists.

The House Republican Conference has shifted sharply rightward. House Democrats have lost most of their moderates.

And the Blue Dog Coalition — once the bastion of centrist Democrats — is ever-thinning inside the Capitol.

Now the downtown contingency of Blue Dogs is getting a new look, as well.

The Blue Dog Research Forum — the K Street outpost run by former Congressman-turned-lobbyist Bud Cramer (D-Ala.) — is renaming itself Center Forward, and spending nearly $1 million from corporations and individuals on a TV advertisement urging Congress to balance the budget.

The Blue Dog Research Forum isn’t changing much in its mission — they’ll continue to gather centrist lawmakers and aides from both parties on Capitol Hill to work through issues at dinners and meetings. Center Forward says they are giving an “umbrella” to support discussions between Republicans and Democrats.

“We are very mindful that centrists need to be encouraged, need to be supported, we want to encourage more to be involved with us,” Cramer said in an interview with POLITICO. “So, what we’re doing right now is more of an effort to say we’ve got the umbrella, we’re going to support you, we’ve done a good job over the past few years, but we’re going to do an even better job from here forward.”

But running advertisements — this one on national cable — is a new feature. No decision has been made whether they would support individual candidates.

“This is an exciting time for us, a time for us to consolidate,” Cramer said in an interview with POLITICO. “We feel like we’re the only group that’s really concentrating on centrists and Congress itself, and we’ve kind of staked that out as our turf. There’s a void there, and we’re filling that void. We’re going to grow and I’m excited about this.”

Cramer has briefed House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) — who is often aligned with centrist Democrats — on his plans. Former Republican Rep. Mike Castle of Delaware is also involved. Erskine Bowles is also supportive of the group’s mission.

The shift for the research forum comes at a time when the Blue Dog brand is wearing. There are just 24 Blue Dogs left in Congress, roughly half as many as there were in 2010. And the group is losing leaders like Reps. Dan Boren (Oklahoma), Mike Ross (Arkansas) and Heath Shuler (North Carolina) to retirement. Rep. Joe Donnelly of Indiana is also leaving the House, in his quest for a Senate seat. Several other members have tough races in November.

Cramer said the group isn’t shedding Blue Dog brand, just the name.

“We’re staying at our core,” Cramer said. “Our principles are working together — centrists coming together no matter what party label. We think each side — the far left, the far right — is so isolated in their separate corners, we think its important to project that we are the center. We’re all about centrists. That’s what we’ve done for the last two years. We are where the American people are. It’s just a new approach, a next step in our growth, and it just makes sense for us to launch this way.”

In addition to balancing the budget, the group has focused on national security policy and tax reform — former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker spoke to the group earlier this year.

The group has worked with the Bi-Partisan Policy Center, Business Roundtable, Taxpayers for Commonsense, National Heritage Foundation, Citizens for Tax Justice, Club for Growth, Building America’s Future, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Brookings Institute.

Even in these partisan times, Cramer thinks there are still allies on Capitol Hill for Blue Dogs.

“I think from my perch, what I see is extreme pressure on members to not work together, for one side to stick with its side, for the other side to stick with its side,” Cramer said. “The centrists are there.”

To view original story http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0312/74332.html

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