Monday, May 26, 2008



The first time I ever spoke with Chris Van Hollen, soon after Rahm Emanuel left his chairmanship of the DCCC to take over the far more powerful House Democratic Conference, I asked him if his new and improved DCCC would stop breaking the Democratic Party rules Emanuel had ignored which require the DCCC not to interfere in primaries. Emanuel (and his shills, particularly Hoyer) kept trying to undermine grassroots and anti-war candidates in favor of Republican-lite corporatists. Sometimes they lost, like when Jerry McNerney (D-CA), Larry Kissell (D-NC), John Hall (D-NY) and Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH) beat back Emanuel's attempts to sabotage their primaries with Bush Dog types, and sometimes they won, like when they managed to install ex-Republicans Christine Jennings and Tim Mahoney as Florida candidates over actual Democrats Jan Schneider and Dave Lutrin. On a conference call Van Hollen left himself a little wiggle room but basically vowed to keep the DCCC out of primaries.

Last week, the faltering Republican version of the DCCC, the NRCC, run by the hapless Tom Cole, announced it was changing its official policy and taking over the primary process... or did it? Minority Leader John Boehner said that's what they were doing, but Cole says that that isn't the case. Both agree that GOP primaries have resulted in abysmal candidate selections this year, giving the Republican Party no chance against Democrats. With the GOP base primed and ready to defeat any mainstream candidate they are offered, the party has wound up with unelectable extremists who are better suited to run as Nazis than on a major party or else with multimillionaires who just bought the nomination. In the case of Jim Oberweis, it was a combination of both and the GOP lost a red bastion in exurban Illinois. That was quickly followed by two more horrid far right candidates in Louisiana and Mississippi, both of whom lost overwhelmingly Republican districts.

Rather than look at the kinds of negative campaigns the NRCC and its shadowy allies ran-- lamely attempting to associate the local Democrats with Jeremiah Wright and Nancy Pelosi-- national Republican opted not for introspection but for fingerpointing. And they pointed at the losers themselves and said they never had a chance to win. Why didn't they have a chance to win? Because they were down the line zombies supporting the entire GOP agenda? Still too introspective. The fallback position became that if the national party in DC picked the candidates instead of the local Republicans... well, something undefined would have somehow resulted in a different outcome. Very dubious, at best.

And Cole claims Boehner mispoke anyway. After Boehner said on Wednesday that the NRCC would be taking over to make sure no more unelectable candidates would be chosen, Cole said Boehner was confused, ostensibly from too much time in the tanning booth.
“The conference rules are very clear,” Cole said, explaining that the NRCC only gets involved when asked to on a state level. “When a delegation [has asked the NRCC] to get involved, we have.”

The confusion stems from remarks made by Minority Leader Boehner during a closed door meeting with House GOP lawmakers Wednesday morning. During his address, Boehner outlined a list of changes that will be made to its campaign-related operations in the wake of the devastating loss in a Mississippi special election last Tuesday. A document detailing Boehner’s talking points was provided to The Hill.

Under the heading “CHANGE#1: Primaries,” the first three bullet points seemed to signal a change in the NRCC’s policy. 

“There are a number of primaries that will occur between now and September… We’re going to be proactive to prevent situations that leave the eventual nominee short on resources and bloodied for the general election… The Leadership team is going to be involved where we can make a difference,” the talking points said.

Cole said NRCC policies on primaries remain intact. He explained that the Republican Conference-- not the campaign committee-- would be doing more to make sure the most viable candidate wins primaries.

Cole said, “We weren’t going to go in and [spend money in primaries] we can’t afford to do that … It’s not a change in policy at all.”

He added that the NRCC would move to set up more special fundraising groups to systematically target certain races and begin raising money for them now.

Asked whether the NRCC will move to dissuade lackluster candidates from pursuing a nomination, he said, “You don’t think we have pretty frank conversations with [potential candidates]?”

...Cole contended that the primary situation the three districts the Republicans lost this year were largely out of their hands. And he has attributed the losses, in part [and with more of a sense of realism than most Republicans care to face] to the failing GOP brand.

Republicans have a pair of former members facing contested primaries-- Reps. Jeb Bradley (N.H.) and Jim Ryun (Kan.)-- but it’s not clear whether those races will be close enough to warrant national party involvement.

In Minnesota, physician Brian Davis has won his state party’s [useless] endorsement to face freshman Rep. Tim Walz (D) but still faces a challenge from state Sen. Dick Day.

The biggest races with remaining primaries include several open seats and the efforts against freshman Reps. Tim Mahoney (D-Fla.), Harry Mitchell (D-Ariz.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

Former Maricopa County treasurer David Schweikert and former Secretary of State Sandy Treadwell would likely be the beneficiaries in the latter two races, respectively.

The Treadwell compound in tony Los Feliz

Treadwell is reviled by the GOP extremist base in his district and it was recently revealed that his family, like most Americans, is backing Barack Obama against McCain. There is also a battle over whether or not the NRCC should back criminally corrupt incumbents, like Don Young in Alaska. With Young having spent over a million dollars in legal fees to keep from being indicted, he could use some GOP love. But he isn't getting any.
Cole has not donated to Young’s re-election campaign, or the campaigns of his two primary challengers, Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell and Kodiak Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux.

In any case, it looks like the Republican Party has pretty much decided on the old Soviet and Chinese Communist Party model in which the central party dictates the selection of official nominees. Unfortunately, it isn't that different among the Democrats! Friday's Congress Daily claimed that Van Hollen was pretty much doing the same thing-- but quietly. Writer Erin McPike echoes what Van Hollen told me when he first took over: the DCCC, "in theory, does not take sides in competitive primaries." Most observers of recent events in MI-09 and AZ-01, to name just two races where grassroots challengers have been pressured by insiders, would disagree. McPike claims that Van Hollen "has worked-- actively and behind the scenes-- to back selected candidates and push others from key races around the country."
Van Hollen stressed that staying out of primaries was "just the general approach" by the DCCC this cycle, "not a hard and fast rule."

He added that the committee does not endorse in primaries, but acknowledged coming close without actually using the word.

In Nevada's 2nd District, the DCCC has "encouraged" state Sen. Dina Titus, who faces several lesser-known Democrats in the Aug. 12 primary.

In Michigan's 7th District, he said state Senate Minority Leader Mark Schauer was always the party's preferred candidate. When he decided to run after initially demurring, Van Hollen said the DCCC worked to get other candidates to withdraw.

And in West Virginia's 2nd District, Van Hollen campaigned with Anne Barth the day before her three-way Democratic primary. By that time, she had already been made part of the committee's Red-to-Blue program.

Rep. Artur Davis of Alabama, the DCCC's recruitment chairman [widely recognized as, to be kind, Emanuel's cat's paw], called such activity "ratifying the obvious" because the supported candidates were virtually certain to win the primaries in any case.

Davis stressed that the committee has not become involved in truly competitive primaries, although he and Van Hollen acknowledged there were few of those because of the party's early and aggressive recruiting efforts.

... One Democratic strategist conceded that grassroots criticisms of former DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel of Illinois for getting involved in some 2006 primaries might have shaped Van Hollen's early, less-public approach.

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At 4:14 PM, Blogger Guru said...

I have written a good post on why the republicans would pick up Gillibrend's seat. Please come by a read it.


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