Wednesday, November 06, 2013

What Kind Of Republican Candidates Is Steve Israel Recruiting To Run As Democrats Now? Not The Ones Who Have Seen The LIght


Sunday we looked at North Carolina Republican congressional candidate Jason Thigpen's switch from the GOP to the Democratic Party. Monday evening Jason went on air with Lawrence O'Donnell to talk about his oddessey (above).

When I spoke with him over the weekend, Jason seemed to me to be a very independent-minded, thoughtful, progressive-oriented citizen with a keen understanding of a Constitution he takes very seriously. What he did not come across as is a careerist or someone likely to take walking orders from any two-bit political hack like DCCC chairman Steve Israel. Israel is happy to find malleable "ex"-Republicans and conservatives he can tell what to do. I don't expect him to embrace someone as independent as Jason. Careerists and opportunists like most of Israel's Jumpstart recruits, from Pete Aguilar, former Guantanamo com andante Jerry Cannon, anti-Choice/anti-gay fanatic Jennifer Garrison, multimillionaire self funder Sean Eldridge, Suzanne Patrick, to Domenic Recchia and Kevin Strouse.

Several months ago, I called Pete Aguilar to talk with him about where he stands on the important issues facing CA-31 voters. His campaign manager told me confidently that the DCCC hasn't told them where they stand on anything yet so he couldn't put me through to Aguilar-- who had already failed miserably as a candidate for the same House seat a year ago. He said he'd call me when Aguilar had his positions figured out. He still hasn't called back. That's a typical response from Israel's recruits. It was pretty much the same response I had when I got through to Gwen Graham in Florida, another Steve Israel top recruit, and to Kevin Strouse's campaign in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. THese are issue-free, mystery meat candidates who are hoping for a national anti-Republican wave to sweep them into a nice new career.

Israel says he's following Rahm Emanuel's playbook to win lots of seats with conservative candidates divorced from the Democratic Party's core progressive values. The problem with that strategy-- as the Democrats found in 2010-- is that once Democratic voters see the congressmen in action-- voting with Republicans and with Wall Street and abandoning working families-- they refuse to go to the polls to reelect them. None of Rahm Emanuel's recruits served more than 2 terms. None are still in Congress. The Democrats lost the House-- by a landslide-- in 2010 because all Rahm's candidates were defeated, not just by Republican voters but by disappointed Democrats who stayed away from the polls and by disgruntled independents who swung away from the faithless candidates they had voted for in 2006 and 2008.

And this is what Israel's reptilian brain thinks is the right direction for the DCCC. Take Jennifer Garrison, for example, who he recruited to run in OH-06, an R+8 district that would be a stretch for any Democrat, even one who could unify grassroots Democratic voters-- which the hated Garrison, known locally as "the Sarah Palin of Ohio," never can. Garrison voted against the minimum wage bill in the Ohio legislature, is an NRA favorite, a fanatic anti-Choice warrior and a homophobic bigot. While Israel was trying to chase moderate-- not especially progressive but not a reactionary hate-monger like Garrison-- state Senator Lou Gentile out of the race, he told Garrison to change her hard-right messaging, at least temporarily. Even a Beltway-centric pundit like Stu Rothenberg, who normally parrots whatever message the DCCC and NRCC are pushing, sensed something was amiss.
Democratic House hopeful Jennifer Garrison, who is running against Republican Rep. Bill Johnson in Ohio’s 6th District, told me, my colleague Nathan L. Gonzales and Roll Call reporter Abby Livingston during an interview on Oct. 8 that she once supported defining marriage as between a man and a woman but now supports “civil unions.”

The phrase “civil unions” stuck in my head because, while it was a term often bandied about a year or two ago, it quickly fell into disuse as the broader debate on gay rights focused on same-sex marriage.

Garrison, one of six quality Democratic candidates I wrote about recently, did a brief video interview with Roll Call after my meeting with the congressional hopeful, and Livingston asked her to “describe your evolution on gay marriage.”

The former state legislator mentioned her earlier position but said she now supports “domestic partner benefits and some recognition by the state of those [same-sex] relationships.” She did not refer to civil unions, same-sex marriage or gay marriage. It was another odd response, especially given the wording of the question.

The problem with Garrison’s response to me-- and to Roll Call-- is that she apparently told political reporter David Skolnick of the Youngstown Vindicator in mid-July that she supported same-sex marriage. At least that’s what he wrote in a July 17 piece:
“Congressional candidate Jennifer Garrison, who made her opponent’s opposition to Ohio’s Defense of Marriage Act a key issue in her successful 2004 state House race, now says that she supports same-sex marriages.”
So, I telephoned Skolnick just to double-check, and he told me that Garrison skated around the issue until he asked point blank: Did she support same-sex marriage or not? “She paused,” he told me, “and then said ‘yes.’” Skolnick says that neither Garrison nor her campaign complained about how he characterized her position on the issue.

Of course, when Garrison spoke with Skolnick, state Sen. Lou Gentile was still actively considering a run for the Democratic nomination.

Gentile, who represents 10 of the congressional district’s 18 counties and is generally viewed as more liberal than Garrison, announced on Aug. 1 that he would not run for Congress. His decision made Garrison the heavy favorite to win her party’s nomination.

Am I nit-picking here? I don’t think so, and I doubt that people who have strong opinions on either side of the matter would think so. Same-sex marriage, domestic partner benefits and civil unions are not the same thing, and Garrison must know that.

Count me as skeptical that she accidentally used the “civil unions” and then “domestic partner benefits” language rather than referring to “same-sex marriage.” Instead, I suspect that she is trying to have it both ways. When she had to worry about Gentile, she tacked left and said she supported same-sex marriage. Now, with Gentile no longer a factor, she has moved back to a position where she is more comfortable.

Obviously, local reporters will and should press Garrison on the issue, but so far, it is pretty clear that she would rather dance around the subject than take a clear position.
In 2009, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland had to reassure Democratic voters he would not consider the gay-hating Garrison for a spot on his ticket. Republicans love her, of course… but enough to replace a party-line GOP incumbent? Unlikely. Are all Israel's recruits as bad as Garrison? No… but most of them are right along those lines, if not quite that extreme.

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At 7:00 PM, Anonymous Josh said...

I have heard you on David Feldman's podcast many times. I just got a solicitation call from the DCCC and told them I won't give Steve Israel a dime because he runs blue dogs and won't challenge his GOP friends. I had to repeat myself four times to get her off script. I hope someone listens to the recording of the call.


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