Primaries and Centrism in MA-05, WA-08

by: Matt Stoller

Wed Jul 11, 2007 at 17:08

Check out this video endorsement - Jamie Eldridge has a whole wall of them.  That's what primaries bring us, this kind of political innovation.

Ok, so we all know that one place where liberals can have a big impact on our party is in primary contests.  Obviously, as backer of Donna Edwards, OL knows that taking on an incumbent is one model for this kind of work.  Last cycle, it wasn't just Edwards, but Lamont who illustrated the strengths and weaknesses of such an approach.  But another approach that is perhaps less clear cut in terms of heroes and villains is in open seats.  Massachusetts 5th is one such case, where Democrat Niki Tsongas is running against liberal Jamie Eldridge to replace Marty Meehan.  It's a fairly strong district for Democrats. 

This is an interesting matchup, with both candidates embracing a grassroots style of campaigning.  Tsongas has a bunch of fundraisers on Actblue, and so does Eldridge.  Tsongas's base is establishment types like Barney Frank and EMILY's List, whereas Eldridge has more of an activist and union base, as you can tell from his endorsement page where I ran into those awesome video endorsements.  I've spoken with Eldridge, and he's a really liberal guy in his instincts.  When I asked him about immigration, he brought up poverty in Mexico, explicitly linking the economics.  Politicians rarely do that, even though it is the only way for progressives to talk about immigration and win.  Tsongas is an Emily's List candidate, fairly moderate, and very aggressive in working to communicate with the grassroots.  Both candidates in the race (there are five, but these are the top two) are using Bluemassgroup to communicate with bloggers.

Now, I sort of think of Tsongas as a centrist, both because I've watched the debates online for the district and because she was a Vice Chair of the Concord Coalition, which focuses on deficits.  The board includes Southern Democrats like Chuck Robb, Sam Nunn and Charles W. Stenholm, as well as financier-types like Robert Rubin, Steven Rattner, and Paul Volcker.  What's interesting is that she's no longer listed on the web page, though she was listed as late as May 18th.  I have a call in to the campaign to find out what happened. [update: I talked to the press person for Tsongas, and she told me that the Concord Coalition asked her to resign so they could keep from having a political candidate on the board).  Anyway, it's important to understand that there are organizing strategies for centrists, the clearest one being gender and identity based models (such as Hillary Clinton's).  These are strong, and they are clearly beginning to adapt to the internet and use platforms like Actblue.  Anyway, this is a place where there is leverage for progressives, so I'm watching it.  We'll see whether activists/unions can go up against Emily's List, and how well we do.  This isn't necessarily clear-cut.

Now, another primary is extremely clear-cut, and this one is in WA-08.  Darcy Burner, after a spectacular fundraising quarter of $200k, may face a primary challenge from Rodney Tom, a former Republican.  Here's Tom's reason for running.

"I have a high regard for Darcy," he said. "Again, I keep coming back to, who can best win the 8th? The 8th is a moderate district, and if there's a strong moderate out there, it's me. I think I share their values and I think I fit this district really well."

Tom just became a Democrat last year, and he's a state Senator who has four years to go in his term.  This is a no-lose proposition for him, so he doesn't necessarily care that much if he has a good shot at taking the primary.

Arguments about what kind of party this is going to be are happening all around us, as many of us know.  As Republican moderates are being destroyed, and their squishiness revealed, Concord Coalition-style Democrats and former Republicans are seeing a space to move in, space that could be occupied by good progressives.

That's where a lot of our energy ought to be dedicated.  I'm wondering, do you know of any other races where this dynamic is playing out?

Matt Stoller :: Primaries and Centrism in MA-05, WA-08

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TX-Sen primary (0.00 / 0)
Mikal Watts vs Rick Noriega.  I don't know much about Mikal Watts, but he almost has to be an Ellen Tauscher, cautious pro-business moderate.  Or maybe Mark Pryor would be a more fair comparison, because Tauscher has such bad connotations around here.  Whereas Rick Noriega seems like he's somewhere between Jim Webb and Byron Dorgan, a hard-hitting but realistic populist.

Mikal Watts would find a lot of establishment support against Cornyn, but not a lot of voter enthusiasm; Noriega would find a lot of openings with voters, but more hostility from the establishment.  Obviously we prefer Noriega types, though there are some drawbacks to running populists.  It'll be interesting to see how he positions himself.

Fits well with the threads below on women (4.00 / 2)
This is presumably a Dem district, and not a race to oppose a GOP incumbent, but here we are again with Emily's List supporting a centrist woman with what sounds to be shaping up as a mushy message.  But she's pro-choice.

The whole problem with the Concord Coalition approach is that it becomes a cudgel for restricting spending on social and other progressive programs.  Deficits are ok up to a point.  Higher taxes are needed much more than spending restraint, other than in the defense area.  There is no such thing as a Bob Rubin progressive. 

John McCain--He's not who you think he is.

No such thing as a moderate (0.00 / 0)
I've met Rodney Tom, and he is a nice guy, but a primary run in the 8th will be an uphill battle for him.

Voters will have to choose from a true progressive and a recently converted Republican.

I, as a constituent in the 8th, have no interesting in replacing a "moderate" Reichert, with a "moderate" Tom.  Rodney Tom will not only have to convince people like myself, but he will need to learn how to raise $4 million, which will surely be the minimum needed to beat the Republican election machine that will do whatever it can to retain Reichert's seat.

In my opinion, the key to beating Reichert is painting him for what he is: unprincipled and standing for nothing anyone can put a finger on.  Burner needs to play up her business and tech savvy credentials, and connect with a typically uninterested tech electorate in a district that is home to Microsoft and many Boeing employees.

On The Road To 2008: Commentary on issues as we countdown to the next opportunity to change the direction of America

"I have a high regard for Darcy," (0.00 / 0)
"I'm just ambitious and smell blood in the water."

what an ass.


Barf (0.00 / 0)
That guy's reason for running against Darcy is nausiating. It also won't resonate with the Dem primary electorate. Primaries are not places where party switches generally do well, anyway. Also, now that we are in power, telling Dems to take the electability path won't sell. Many liberals are not even happy with the current Congress, so telling them to swallow more moderation just to stay in power won't fly, especially when it rightly seems like we will stay in power anyway.


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