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Centrist Democrats with an unofficial mascot

Published November 7, 2003

NBC's The West Wing raised a question Wednesday night, but the usually pedantic show never got around to answering it.

Part of the episode featured negotiations on capital gains taxes between the White House and members of Congress known as the "Blue Dog Democrats."

One of the show's characters, an intern, asked a senior adviser how they got that name. But, because this particular adviser was having a really, really bad day, he never answered.

Here's the answer: The Blue Dogs are fiscally conservative Democrats in the U.S. House who tend to vote together on budget and economic issues. According to the group's Web site, they want to bring the party back to the center and have good working relationships with Republicans.

The name is a play off of "Yellow Dog Democrat," an old Southern expression that described someone who would vote for a mangy yellow dog before he would vote for a Republican. The coalition, which began with the 104th Congress in 1995, adopted the "blue dog" name because, in their words, "their moderate-to-conservative-views had been "choked blue' by their party in the years leading up to the 1994 election."

The group lists 37 members, including Florida Rep. Allen Boyd of Monticello.

One popular tale is the Blue Dogs got their name from the paintings of Louisiana artist George Rodrigue, whose work features an unusual blue dog. The founding members of the coalition used to meet in the offices of then-Democrats Rep. Billy Tauzin and Rep. Jimmy Hayes of Louisiana, where Rodrigue's paintings hung on the walls.

"They tried to adopt it as their symbol," Rodrigue said in a telephone interview Thursday, "but I said, "No, you can't use my image."'

Rodrigue painted the first Blue Dog works in the mid 1980s, intending it to be a small series based on the French legend of the loup-garou, "the werewolf who eats bad children," Rodrigue said. "I used photos of my old, dear, dead dog Tiffany to paint the loup-garou and I used a blue-green color. The loup-garou never stuck; the Blue Dog did."

Since then, the blue dog has appeared in hundreds of his paintings, which sell for as much as $300,000. The only time the dog has not been blue was in a silkscreen series Rodrigue donated to the Red Cross after Sept. 11. He painted the dog in white with red eyes.

"When I first met President Clinton, he thought I was the beginning of the Blue Dog Democrats. I told him I had nothing to do with it," Rodrigue said. "It took him a year to figure it out. But when I painted him for an inaugural poster, I put the Blue Dog in."

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