Blue Dogs make first endorsements of 2014

The fiscally centrist Democratic Blue Dog Coalition is backing a trio of House candidates with its first endorsements of 2014, throwing its support behind Gwen Graham in Florida, Jennifer Garrison in Ohio and James Lee Witt in Arkansas.

The three Democrats are running strong races in GOP-leaning rural territory — the type of districts Blue Dog Democrats tend to represent.

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"Now, more than ever, the American people are tired of the gridlock in Washington that has been created by the extremes of the right and left," said Blue Dog co-chairman and Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.) in a release obtained by The Hill. "The Blue Dogs have always represented the commonsense middle, and we will continue to be a bridge between the two parties in an otherwise dysfunctional Congress."

The Blue Dogs have had a brutal few years at the ballot box, and are looking to rebuild their once-large coalition.

Heading into the 2010 elections they had 54 members in Congress, but that number dipped as low as 15 earlier this year following a rash of retirements and bad losses in the last two election cycles. The group recently added four Democratic congressmen to the coalition, but two longtime members from tough districts — Reps. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) and Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.) — are retiring at the end of this term.

The endorsements list underscores how difficult it will be for the Blue Dogs to rebound in an increasingly polarized Congress. All three candidates they're backing are viewed as strong candidates by national Democrats, but President Obama lost all three districts, and lost two of them by double-digit margins.

Graham, the daughter of centrist former Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), is challenging Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.) in a GOP-leaning district in Florida's panhandle that Obama lost by a 6-point margin. Witt, a former FEMA director under President Clinton, is running for a heavily Republican open seat in southwest Arkansas. Garrison, a former state representative, is running against Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) in a Republican-leaning southeastern Ohio district.