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Rep. Mikie Sherrill at the groundbreaking for the Portal North Bridge. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe).

Sherrill parts ways with Blue Dog Coalition

Gottheimer staying in moderate caucus after internal dispute over rebranding proposal

By Joey Fox, January 24 2023 5:27 pm

As first reported by Politico this morning, Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair) has left the Blue Dog Coalition, a small caucus of centrist Democratic House members, alongside six of her colleagues. On the other side of the split, which was over a proposal to rebrand under a new name, is Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff), who will remain in the coalition.

In a statement, Sherrill told the New Jersey Globe that the current narrow Republican majority requires “pragmatic leadership” from Democrats, and that she’ll continue fighting for common-sense policies from outside the Blue Dog Coalition.

“I’m resigning from the Blue Dog Coalition to work with a broader coalition of leaders who fight for everyday voters and the democratic values I hold dear,” she said. “I would like to thank them for their support over the years and I look forward to continuing to engage with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass common-sense legislation that helps lower everyday costs for American families, fights for reproductive healthcare, and strengthens our national security.”

Lurking behind the Blue Dog break-up is the fact that both Sherrill and Gottheimer now represent significantly bluer seats than the ones they first flipped from Republicans. Sherrill, in particular, now represents a starkly Democratic district; her new 11th district would have voted for Joe Biden by 17 points, the same margin he got statewide in New Jersey.

Both are also believed to be possible contenders for governor or U.S. Senate in the future, campaigns that would likely require them to defend their moderate stances – and caucus memberships – in a Democratic primary.

The Blue Dog Coalition, the centermost of the three main ideological House Democratic caucuses, was founded in 1995 in response to the historic 1994 Republican wave. It once included dozens of conservative Southern Democrats, but as those members retired or lost re-election, it shrunk significantly.

Gottheimer and Sherrill joined the coalition in 2017 and 2019, respectively; they were two of many new swing-district coalition members who moved the Blue Dogs in a more socially liberal direction while remaining moderate on other issues.

Buoyed by Democratic wins in the 2018 midterms, the Blue Dogs reached 27 members in the 116th Congress, but after losses and retirements in 2020 and 2022, they fell to just 15 at the start of the current Congress. With their dwindling numbers in mind, several caucus members pushed for a rebrand, among them Sherrill, according to a source familiar with the proceedings.

The Blue Dog Coalition, the reformers argued, was seen by many as a relic of a past era of politics, when the House was dominated by socially conservative white men. Following a study from a Democratic polling firm, they pitched a rechristening as the Common Sense Coalition in order to attract new members who held moderate views but were skeptical of the Blue Dogs.

But in a secret-ballot vote, the proposed changes were rejected. That led to the exodus of Sherrill and six other caucus members, including Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Virginia), a close Sherrill ally and friend. It’s not clear yet whether Sherrill and her fellow former Blue Dogs will forge anything new of their own; Sherrill is already also a member of the New Democrats, a much larger caucus of center-left representatives.

Gottheimer, meanwhile, is staying in the caucus, which is now down to just seven definite members. That’s by far the smallest it’s ever been since its founding, though the remaining members plan on working to recruit new members in the coming weeks.

“I remain committed to the organization’s goals of promoting fiscal responsibility, protecting America’s national security, supporting women’s health care, and supporting common-sense policies like protecting a woman’s right to choose, ensuring access to affordable health care, standing up for labor, and supporting our veterans,” Gottheimer said in a statement.

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