Last Friday I wrote about about how the political environment favors progressive primary challengers to the Bush Dogs who are dragging the Democratic Party down morally and electorally. While I still think I’m right about the landscape, it has not translated into actual primary challengers:
Despite the disdain towards the Democratic Congress, Donna Edwards, Rosemary Palmer and Mark Pera are the only strong primary challengers I know of that are taking on an incumbent (correct me if I’m wrong here). There may be others, but not very many. With over 80 Democrats voting for a supplemental war funding bill, and several voting against SCHIP, it’s pretty clear that these people, despite the phone calls and letters from voters, don’t have to respond to pressure if they don’t want to. This seems to be systemic. Consider that in 2006, Ned Lamont was the only person who would step up to challenge Lieberman, despite Lieberman’s obvious right-wing extremism. Lamont, a neophyte candidate, was willing to learn on the fly, but it says something that the mayors of the two largest cities in Connecticut fought a vicious primary over who would get crushed by a beloved Republican Governor instead of going up against Lieberman.
Something is very wrong. Politicians are calculating risk-takers, and that these Connecticut politicians thought going after Rell was a better bet than going after Lieberman suggests that there was a serious market failure here. And that the weak Democratic Congress has seen very limited primary energy confirms that this market failure may have gotten worse.
Stoller speculates on why this is: Specifically, the difficulty of connecting potential candidates with potential supporters; the incumbents’ built-in resource advantage (or perceived advantage); and the party establishment’s hostility and vindictiveness towards primary challengers.
This is very bad. As we have seen over the past 6+ years, any time politicians can act without fear of any consequences, electoral or otherwise, the outcome is disaster. Of course, for the Democrats, the impunity is one-way: They fear the Republicans, but view us as merely irrelevant and impotent nuisances who will grit our teeth and support them because we have no alternatives.
So the question is, how do we fix this? Obviously we can’t just make primary opponents appear. Stoller recommends that the netroots support progressive primary challengers wherever they appear, to encourage any potential candidates who might otherwise be scared off by the fundraising and resource challenges.
I think this idea would have the desired effect, and would eventually lead to more and better primary candidates. But I have to wonder if it’s sustainable. If we give to every progressive challenger out there, regardless of viability, will there be enough money left for Edwards, Palmer, and Pera to win their campaigns? I’d like to think there is, and that political donations are not a zero sum game, but many of us only have so much money to spend, and we want to get the most bang for our buck.
What we really need is an organization that can hook challengers up with potential donors, preferably in their own state or district. I’m not sure if collecting an actual pool of money would work, since that might pose campaign finance problems. More like an information resource about what donors are available and how much they’d be willing to give to get rid of their unfriendly neighborhood Bush Dog.