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Blue Dogs Dems could pick up power

Majority Democrats are positioned for big gains in next week's congressional election. But many of the new faces would join a growing chorus of "Blue Dogs" who often part from the party base on big issues like taxes and increasing federal spending.

That could set up a roadblock for Obama, who has promised to broaden health insurance coverage, start a new round of public works projects and improve early childhood education, among other things -- all initiatives that would require substantial government spending at a time of soaring deficits.

The 49 House Blue Dogs -- which include Merced Congressman Dennis Cardoza -- could grow by as many as 10 in Tuesday's election with wins in mainly Southern, conservative-leaning districts. Overall, Democrats are expected to pick up 20 or more House seats.

New Blue Dog faces in the House could include Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright in Alabama, county prosecutor Frank M. Kratovil Jr. on Maryland's conservative Eastern Shore, and Elwyn Tinklenberg north of Minneapolis-St. Paul. All have shots at capturing seats currently held by Republicans.

But the Blue Dogs also are making a bid to expand to the Senate.

This week they endorsed the Senate bid of former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner -- who was already heavily favored to win his race against former Republican Gov. Jim Gilmore -- in what they hope will be a big step toward strengthening their ability to stop initiatives that aren't paired with spending cuts or tax increases.

The move reflects exasperation with their own party's failure to rein in deficit spending, especially in the Senate where attempts to do so have been met with Republican filibusters.

The term Blue Dog has its roots in the 1920s, when the moniker "yellow dog Democrat" was used to described party loyalists in the South who, it was said, would vote for a yellow dog if it ran on the Democratic ticket. Right-of-center Democrats who said they were being "choked blue" by their party's liberal flank adopted the current name after Republicans swept control of the House in 1994.

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