WASHINGTON -- One of the few remaining Blue Dog Democrats, Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) has been preaching the need for a change of House Democratic leadership for weeks now, going so far to offer his name if Speaker Nancy Pelosi remains unchallenged for the post of minority leader.
Not everyone is impressed.
In an interview with the Huffington Post on Monday, Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (D-Ohio) took a buzz saw to Shuler's prospective candidacy, arguing that if Democrats wanted to find their voice as a party it wouldn't be with Blue Dogs steering the wheel.
"Nancy Pelosi has been an incredibly effective speaker getting through the House health care, the recovery bill, Wall Street reform, and so many other good pieces of legislation. Politically she has been a tireless campaigner and effective fundraiser for the DCCC and for Democratic candidates," said Kilroy. "What has Heath Shuler offered? He has been a naysayer on the Democratic agenda; he voted against critical pieces of legislation. I haven't seen him out campaigning and helping Democrats get elected. He seems to me to have a very narrow agenda. And certainly in terms of a Democratic message, someone like Heath Shuler is incapable of carrying forward the kind of message that we need to retake the House."
"He is certainly getting a lot of attention for doing this," Kirloy added, specifically addressing Shuler's on-again-off-again flirtation with making a leadership run. "On 'Morning Joe' this morning he was much better talking about football than he was talking about politics."
Shuler's office didn't immediately return a request for comment. Though it's not hard to guess what the congressman and former college football star would say. He found his way through a tough 2010 election cycle intact. Kilroy didn't. Who is better equipped to understand what is most needed to keep the Democratic Party in power? Moreover, Kilroy doesn't get a vote. By the time lawmakers choose who to put in their leadership posts, she will be out of office, among the dozens of other Democrats who have lost their seats.
And yet, Kilroy's critique of Shuler is not insignificant. There will be a big chunk of the just-defeated Democratic class who runs for their old seats in 2012. And many of them will base their decisions on what the party does to either reaffirm or reinvent itself. Pelosi remaining at the top of the structure could dissuade some of the more conservative members from trying to reclaim their posts. But the dysfunction that results from an inter-party leadership squabble could do more damage in terms of candidate recruitment.