End of the 'Blue Dogs?'

Pro-gun, pro-life, and fiscally conservative Democrats have been a dying breed for a couple of decades and 2012 might make the "Blue Dog" as rare as hens teeth.

Roll Call:

The number of Blue Dogs grew steadily beginning in 1997, peaking at 54 members in the 111th Congress, when the fiscally conservative Democrats reached the pinnacle of their influence during the health care debate. That may have also been the coalition's undoing: The unforgiving tea party wave of 2010 and opposition to President Barack Obama's health care law decimated the ranks.

Now, the coalition faces the prospect of membership falling to its lowest ever, less than the 21 lawmakers it counted at the start of the 105th Congress. It ended that term with 25; currently there are 24 members of the group.

An unsympathetic look at the numbers shows the Blue Dogs could suffer further losses. If Roll Call's race ratings bear out - that is, if all races leaning Democratic swing that way and vice versa - the group is looking at a ceiling of 19 members.

That is only true if the party wins all of its Tossup races. If it loses those, membership could dwindle to as few as 14 members to start the 113th Congress.

Blue Dog Co-Chairman for Communications Mike Ross (Ark.) said not to count out his candidates.

"I think there's going to be a lot of surprises," said the six-term lawmaker who will retire at the end of the year, almost certainly leaving his district in Republican hands. "2010 was the worst year for Democrats in 70 years, and we lost a lot of Members. But anyone that could survive 2010 certainly will not have a problem surviving 2012."

Indeed, 11 Blue Dogs are in safe seats, and Reps. Ben Chandler (Ky.), Jim Costa (Calif.) and Mike Michaud (Maine) are favored to win their contests. Reps. John Barrow (Ga.), Jim Matheson (Utah) and Mike McIntyre (N.C.) are in more competitive races. Some battle-tested Blue Dogs, however, have had it with the constant onslaught.

Prominent Blue Dogs like Heath Shuler (NC) and David Boren (OK) are retiring, weary of the nail biting contests they must endure every 2 years. Joe Donnelly is running a competitive race for the Indiana Senate seat held by Richard Lugar who was primaried out by Richard Mourdock.

Whatever influence the caucus once held is history - victim of better GOP recruitment and the desire by the Democratic base to kick them out. It's a shame because if Mitt Romney wins, he might have been able to convince at least some Blue Dogs to support his tax and spending cut programs.

As it stands, it won't matter much anyway.