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In American politics, a conservative Democrat is a member of the Democratic Party with conservative political views, or with views that are fiscally or socially conservative compared to the positions taken by the Democratic Party. While such members of the Democratic Party can be found throughout the nation, conservative Democratic elected officials are disproportionately found within the Southern states, in rural areas, and in the Midwest.
Ideology and pollsEdit
The modern view of a conservative Democrat is a Democrat who is fiscally conservative, with a moderate or conservative foreign policy, but with varying views on social or civil policy. Some members of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party apply the term "Democrat in name only" (DINO) to conservative Democrats.
According to a 2015 poll from the Pew Research Center, 54% of conservative and moderate Democrats supported same-sex marriage in 2015. This figure represented an increase of 22% from a decade earlier.
During the Roosevelt administration, several radical populist proposals which went beyond what Roosevelt was willing to advocate gained in popularity. It is notable that all four of the main promoters of these proposals, Charles Coughlin, Huey Long, Francis Townsend, and Upton Sinclair, were originally strong New Deal supporters but turned against Roosevelt because they believed the New Deal programs did not go far enough. Like the New Deal programs, these populist proposals were based entirely on single economic reforms, but did not take a position on any other issue and were therefore compatible with those holding otherwise conservative views. Some historians today believe that the primary base of support for the proposals of Coughlin, Long, Townsend, and Sinclair was conservative middle class whites who saw their economic status slipping away during the Depression.
A different source of conservative Democratic dissent against the New Deal came from a group of journalists who considered themselves classical liberals and Democrats of the old school, and were opposed to big government programs on principle; these included Albert Jay Nock and John T. Flynn, whose views later became influential in the libertarian movement.
George Wallace, the segregationist Democratic governor of Alabama, formed the new American Independent Party. In the 1968 presidential election, he received 13.5% of the popular vote and 46 electoral votes, carrying several Southern states. The AIP would run presidential candidates in several other elections, including conservative Southern Democrats (Lester Maddox in 1976 and John Rarick in 1980), but none of them did nearly as well as Wallace.
After 1968, with desegregation a settled issue, conservative Democrats, mostly Southerners, managed to remain in the United States Congress throughout the 1970s and 1980s. These included Democratic House members as conservative as Larry McDonald, who was also a leader in the John Birch Society. During the administration of Ronald Reagan, the term "boll weevils" was applied to this bloc of conservative Democrats, who consistently voted in favor of tax cuts, increases in military spending, and deregulation favored by the Reagan administration but opposed to cut social welfare spending.
Boll weevils was sometimes used as a political epithet by Democratic Party leaders, implying that the boll weevils were unreliable on key votes or not team players. Most of the boll weevils eventually retired from office, or in the case of some such as Senators Phil Gramm and Richard Shelby, switched parties and joined the Republicans. Since 1988 the term boll weevils has fallen out of favor.
Democratic Governor of Georgia Jimmy Carter won the 1976 presidential election. Carter was the first candidate from the Deep South to be elected president since before the Civil War. He is a born-again Christian and was (until 2000) a member of the Southern Baptist Convention. While the Republican Party began to pursue a strategy of wooing born-again Christians as a voting bloc after 1980, led by activists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, in 1976, 56% of the evangelical Christian vote went to Carter. However, he had both liberal fiscal and social policies with liberal views on peace and ecology, with foreign policies that made him unsatisfying for most Southern conservative Democrats.
In 1988, Joe Lieberman defeated Republican U.S. Senate incumbent Lowell Weicker of Connecticut by running to the right of Weicker and receiving the endorsements of the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association. Colorado governor Richard Lamm, and former Minnesota Senator and presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy both took up immigration reduction as an issue. Lamm wrote a novel, 1988, about a third-party presidential candidate and former Democrat running as a progressive conservative, and Lamm himself would go on to unsuccessfully seek the nomination of the Reform Party in 1996. McCarthy began to give speeches in the late 1980s naming the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Federal Election Commission as the three biggest threats to liberty in the United States.
Arthur Schlesinger Jr., known during the 1950s and 1960s as a champion of "Vital Center" ideology and the policies of Harry S. Truman and John F. Kennedy, wrote a 1992 book, The Disuniting of America critical of multiculturalism. Jerry Brown, meanwhile, would adopt the flat tax as a core issue during the 1992 Democratic primaries.
Blue Dog CoalitionEdit
In 1994 after the Republican revolution, moderate and conservative Democrats within the U.S. House of Representatives organized themselves into the Blue Dog Democrats, in response to the Republican victories at the polls that November. The explanation was that the Blue Dogs felt the party had moved so far left that it had "choked them blue." The name is a reference to an earlier term, Yellow dog Democrat (typically, a southerner who would vote for a Democrat even if a "yellow dog" were the Democratic candidate) and also to the "blue dog" paintings of a Louisiana artist. The Blue Dog Coalition is not considered as conservative as the earlier Dixiecrat and Boll Weevil incarnations of conservative Democrats.
Conservative endorsements of Democratic candidatesEdit
During the 2004 election, several high-profile conservative writers endorsed the Presidential campaign of John Kerry, arguing that the Bush Administration was pursuing policies which were anything but conservative. Among the most notable of these endorsements came from Andrew Sullivan and Paul Craig Roberts, while a series of editorials in Pat Buchanan's The American Conservative magazine made a conservative case for several candidates, with Scott McConnell formally endorsing Kerry, and Justin Raimondo giving the nod to independent Ralph Nader.
In 2006, Democratic Nebraska senator Ben Nelson received the endorsements of groups such as the National Right to Life Committee and the National Rifle Association, respectively a pro-life group and pro-gun group, that both typically endorse Republicans.
In South Carolina in 2008, the Democratic candidate for United States Senator was Bob Conley, a traditional Catholic, and a former activist for the presidential candidacy of Ron Paul. Conley failed in his bid to defeat Republican Lindsey Graham, receiving 42.4 percent of the vote. Conley was the only Paul supporter to be a Senate candidate for either main party in 2008. Conley was widely expected to, but did not, challenge Joe Wilson for his seat in the House of Representatives in 2010.
In his 2010 campaign for reelection, Walter Minnick, the U.S. Representative for Idaho's 1st congressional district, was endorsed by Tea Party Express, an extremely rare occurrence for a Democrat. Minnick was the only Democrat to receive a 100% rating from the Club for Growth, an organization that typically supports conservative Republicans. Minnick ultimately lost to Raúl Labrador, a conservative Republican, in the general election.
Also in 2010, Travis Childers, the U.S. Representative for Mississippi's 1st congressional district, was endorsed by the National Right to Life Committee and the National Rifle Association in his reelection campaign. Childers lost to conservative Republican Alan Nunnelee.
Democrats described as conservativesEdit
- Ben Nelson
- Joe Donnelly[dubious ]
- Joe Lieberman (A conservative Democrat until 2006, when he formally left the party. He caucused with Senate Democrats until 2013.)[dubious ]
- Joe Manchin
- Jon Tester[dubious ]
- Kyrsten Sinema[dubious ]
- Mark Pryor[dubious ]
- Kent Conrad
Members of the U.S. House of RepresentativesEdit
- Bart Stupak
- Bobby Bright
- Charlie Melancon
- Dan Boren
- Collin Peterson
- Heath Shuler
- James Oberstar
- Jerry Costello
- John Barrow
- John Murtha
- Kathleen Dahlkemper
- Lincoln Davis
- Marcy Kaptur
- Mike McIntyre
- Paul Kanjorski
- Solomon Ortiz
- Steve Driehaus
- Tim Holden
- Travis Childers
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