Monday, February 12, 2018

Does EVERY Member Of Congress Deserve A Primary Challenge?


Even Lipinski's own colleagues in Congress want him out

On Sunday, Politico ran a story by Laura Nahmias and Lauren Dezenski, Progressives storm Democratic primaries. It brought up some important races but didn't talk much about when incumbents deserve to be primaried and when they don't, a tough, sometimes, nuanced question.
Progressive insurgents are launching challenges to Democratic members of Congress in some of the country’s bluest districts, sparked by deep frustration with the party establishment and anti-Trump anger.

Most of the challengers are long shots at the moment. But some are putting a scare into entrenched incumbents, thanks to their muscular fundraising and a message of liberal disaffection on issues including Wall Street, criminal justice reform and single-payer health care.

...In New York, Adem Bunkeddeko is one of three young Democrats taking on longtime incumbents. Bunkeddeko, who is challenging Rep. Yvette Clarke in the Brooklyn-based 9th Congressional District, points out that Clarke hasn’t been able to pass a bill in Congress since she arrived there. He’s running on a platform to bring new subsidized housing to his district and enact criminal justice reforms-- ending cash bail, changing sentencing laws and legalizing marijuana.

He’s garnered support from some unusual places — including longtime Democratic political adviser Vernon Jordan and former New York lieutenant governor and civic booster Richard Ravitch. In the most recent fundraising quarter, he raised roughly $121,000-- not far behind Clarke’s $164,000.

“People are tired of having a seat in which no one is speaking truth to power, and no one is giving voice to folks whose voices aren’t heard,” said Bunkeddeko, a Harvard MBA-holding community organizer whose parents raised him in New York after fleeing war-torn Uganda. “She does carry the advantage of being the incumbent, but the mood, the landscape-- that’s in our favor.”
I don't want to rain on anyone's parade-- or at least not on any progressive's parades. But sometimes maybe it really is better to run for city council or state legislature instead of heading right for Congress out of the blue. Sometimes. Blue America, the PAC I started in 2005 has often been the first to endorse and raise money for solid progressives running against conservative incumbents. I believe we were the first to help Donna Edwards against Al Wynn in Maryland, the first to help Matt Cartwright against Tim Holden in Pennsylvania, the first to help Beto O'Rourke against Silvestre Reyes in El Paso, the first to back Tim Canova against Debbie Wasserman Schultz in south Florida. We don't shy away from a fight and more recently I believe we were the first out-of-state PAC to endorse Marie Newman against Blue Dog Dan Lipinski in Chicagoland. It isn't the first time we've gotten behind a candidate challenging him. We also backed a candidate against Rahm Emanuel when he was at the height of his power and we're helping Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez raise some money in her campaign to replace corrupt machine boss and Wall Street whore Joe Crowley (Queens and the Bronx). We even have an ActBlue page specifically for challengers to the worst incumbents. Here, click on this to see who we're backing this cycle so far.

Waiting for the "but?" Here comes. Sometimes I talk to well-meaning candidates and I realize they have nothing going for them at all other than some kind of naive idealism-- not even the ability to interact in a vaguely professional manner. It isn't enough to be running against a villain. And it's very hard to displace an entrenched incumbent. Candidates should be excellent, not half-baked. The reason we moved Marie Newman from our Primary A Blue Dog page to our regular congressional page is because she's the real deal, and as good as anyone running for office anywhere. She plays in the Big Leagues and has a real chance to win and replace Lipinski. When I contribute to her, I don't feel like I'm wasting my money. When I ask Blue America members to contribute their money I don't feel like I'm leading them on a pointless wild goose chase. That doesn't mean she's necessarily going to win-- no one knows that-- but it does mean she's going to give it her all and that her all is worth gambling on.

There's another factor. Does the incumbent deserve a challenge or is the challenger just an ego-maniac running a vanity campaign? No incumbent deserves a challenge more than Lipinski. He's anti-Choice, anti-LGBTQ, anti-immigrant, anti-healthcare. He votes with the Republicans on almost everything-- one of the worst Democrats in Congress, worse than worthless. Yvette Clarke in my old neighborhood in Brooklyn? No, she has not earned a challenge. She may not be perfect-- no one is-- but ProgressivePunch rates her an "A" and her lifetime crucial vote score is 95.82, about the same as Keith Ellison's. She has the 13th best voting record of 435 members of the House. Her score is fractionally better than Barbara Lee's, Jerry Nadler's and John Lewis'. We need more people in Congress like Yvette Clarke, not fewer. I never heard of Adem Bunkeddeko and perhaps he's fantastic but why not start by running against a bad-guy instead of one of the good ones.

In Massachusetts, Mike Capuano is the only incumbent with an "A" besides Jim McGovern and Katherine Clark. Does he really deserve a primary? Stephen Lynch does. And Richard Neal? Neal scores a "C" in a very strong Democratic seat. Lynch, however has an "F" and a really bad record across the board. Capuano's district has a D+34 PVI. Neal's is D+12 and Lynch's is D+6. Those are all districts that call for strong progressive leadership. But aside from Lynch, the Massachusetts Democrat who really deserves a challenge is Seth Moulton who struts around like a future vice presidential nominee while earning contempt from progressives in committee and racking up an "F" and a lifetime crucial vote score of 73.66, just like what New Dems have. No one is primarying him though. Capuano gets a primary but Moulton doesn't? Does that make any sense?

In 2014 and 2016 we didn't endorse Ro Khanna in his race against progressive Mike Honda but halfway through the Honda 2016 campaign I realized Honda didn't know how to fight anymore and that he wasn't going to win. Khanna was just a better fighter, maybe like what Honda was when he was much younger. After the campaign, Honda got the word out to his supporters to give Khanna a chance. We did-- and now he's one of the very best members of Congress-- a real super-star. Honda was great in his day. But his day had passed-- everyone's does-- and this is Ro Khanna's day. It took him 2 cycles, though to beat Honda. It took Donna Edwards 2 cycles to beat Wynn. It's not easy to take down an incumbent, especially an incumbent of your own party. 

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At 1:42 PM, Blogger Mf Lehman said...

Thanks for this. It is right on the money.

At 8:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I could probably count the number of DINO-Whigs who DON'T deserve a primary challenger on the fingers of one hand with a couple left over.


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