Democratic Activists Seek to Punish Their Own May 20, 2006 3:20:09 GMT -5
Post by RPankn on May 20, 2006 3:20:09 GMT -5
Cover to Ned Lamont's promotional DVD.
Democratic Activists Seek to Punish Their Own for Backing Bush
May 19 (Bloomberg) -- Democratic activist groups that mounted an aggressive campaign against President George W. Bush in the 2004 election have a new target: Democrats who support his policies.
A loose network of organizations, ranging from women's groups to Internet bloggers, is pressuring incumbents such as Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and Representatives Jane Harman of California and Melissa Bean of Illinois, in some cases by backing insurgent candidates in primary elections.
The groups charge that these and other Democrats have been too supportive of Bush on issues like Iraq and trade, and say they're trying to energize voters disillusioned with a party that has failed to draw clear distinctions with Republicans.
With Democrats holding a wide advantage in public-opinion polls six months before the congressional elections, the party must define its identity, said David Sirota, a Democratic activist.
``If Democrats are really about to get into power, now's the time to let them know what they need to be for,'' said Sirota, who wrote ``Hostile Takeover,'' a book about political corruption.
The organizations and Web logs that identify themselves as the party's ``progressive'' wing include MoveOn.org, a coalition of groups that raised $60 million and enlisted 100,000 volunteers in the 2004 elections; DailyKos, a blog that averages 20 million visitors a month; and Democracy for America, a political action committee with 500 affiliates.
The issues they're promoting include setting a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq, building environmental protections into U.S. trade agreements and cracking down on what they say is price-gouging by oil companies.
And they're tapping into public anger. Polls show that more than half of Americans say the U.S. shouldn't have invaded Iraq, and most think the Bush administration has no clear plan for keeping down energy prices.
Ed Kilgore, vice president for policy of the Democratic Leadership Council -- a Washington-based group that says it represents the party's ``vital center'' -- cautions that the primary challenges risk undermining the Democratic Party just as it may be poised to regain control of Congress.
``At a time when we're desperately trying to take back Congress and win a majority of governorships, I'm not sure it makes a whole lot of sense for Democrats nationally to be wasting money on primary challenges,'' Kilgore said.
In Connecticut, Lieberman, the Democrats' 2000 vice presidential nominee, is facing a challenge in the August primary from Ned Lamont, a 52-year-old Greenwich businessman stressing his opposition to the Iraq war. A recent poll by Rasmussen Reports, an independent survey company in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, showed about a third of Democratic primary voters backing Lamont, the great-grandson of legendary J.P. Morgan & Co. Chairman Thomas W. Lamont, over Lieberman, 64, a supporter of Bush's war policies.
On May 16, the National Organization for Women announced its endorsement of Lamont, and MoveOn.org said yesterday it will poll its 50,000 Connecticut members in an online ``primary'' on May 25 to determine whether they want to back Lieberman or Lamont.
In California, Harman, 60, a six-term House veteran, has a rare primary challenger in Marcy Winograd, 52, president of Progressive Democrats of Los Angeles. Winograd has criticized Harman's support for the Patriot Act, which expanded law- enforcement authority to fight terrorism, and the Iraq war. Winograd's supporters temporarily blocked the state party's endorsement of Harman, although the incumbent ultimately received the backing for the June primary.
Teamsters and Trade
In Illinois' eighth district, the Teamsters union is withholding support for one-term incumbent Bean, 44, over her support for the Central American Free Trade Agreement.
In Washington state, incumbent Senator Maria Cantwell, 47, faces several challengers in a September primary whose campaigns are fueled by anger over her support for the war. They include Mark Wilson, a former Marine who's running as a Democrat, and Aaron Dixon, a former Black Panther Party leader who is running as a Green Party candidate.
In Texas, Representative Henry Cuellar fought off a challenge from Ciro Rodriguez, an opponent backed by labor and environmental groups who got 41 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary in March.
In Pennsylvania, Senate candidate Bob Casey Jr.'s anti- abortion stance was attacked in television ads. While Casey, the state treasurer, fought off a primary challenge this week from Alan Sandals, his opponent won the support of a number of local officials.
Gubernatorial races in Minnesota and Oregon, where Governor Ted Kulongoski faces re-election, have also featured challenges from the left. Kulongoski, 65, came under criticism from environmentalists, health-care advocates and some labor groups before the state's May 16 primary. Former state Treasurer Jim Hill, who opened his campaign by declaring that Kulongoski is ``not a good Democrat,'' got almost a third of the vote despite a late start to his campaign.
The Democratic Leadership Council's Kilgore says it isn't true that the party is failing to provide an alternative to Republican policies. ``It's ludicrous,'' he said. ``There's less doubt right now than there's ever been about the differences.''
Ignoring the rift won't make it disappear, said Tom Matzzie, Washington director for MoveOn.org. ``There's already a gigantic gulf in the party,'' he said.
The activist groups say their strategy is broader than merely challenging Democrats in primaries. They say they also want to pressure party-backed candidates to take definitive positions.
``The other part of this is getting candidates to stand up for what they believe in and not being mealy-mouthed about it,'' said Jim Dean, president of Democracy for America, a group inspired by former Vermont Governor Howard Dean's presidential run in 2004. Jim Dean, Howard's brother, cited Massachusetts Senator John Kerry's call in October for a phased withdrawal from Iraq and expression of regret over his vote for the war.
Even though progressives will find it difficult to win in the primaries, that's unlikely to deter them, said Mark Rozell, a public policy professor at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia. ``To pull off some victories here and there will be enough to energize much of the left base,'' he said.
To Rozell, what's at stake is ``the heart and soul'' of the Democratic Party. ``The Republicans had that battle, and the moderates pretty much lost,'' he said. ``The Democrats now have to confront where the center of the party is.''
To contact the reporter on this story:
Heidi Przybyla in Washington at email@example.com.
Last Updated: May 19, 2006 00:11 EDT