D.C. PACs and State Elections

In five days, Washington Democrats will select either a conservative incumbent in the 35th District or a more liberal challenger as their candidate for the state senate.  If a coalition of liberal PACs can help it, the incumbent, Tim Sheldon, won't be that candidate:

The Progressive Majority, which is backing left-of-center and minority candidates in several state and local races around the country, gave more than half of the $187,323 reported spent so far by three independent political action committees fighting against Sheldon.

The PACs, including Working Families Who Have Had Enough, are part of a labor and environmentalist coalition's effort to promote Democrat Kyle Taylor Lucas and oust Sheldon in the Sept. 19 primary.

Several of the ads single out Sheldon's votes in 2003, accusing him of voting to reduce jobless benefits during the recession, cutting children off state-paid health care programs and opposing increases in the minimum wage. They also link him to President Bush, saying Sheldon led Democrats for Bush in the state in 2004.

So far, Oregon hasn't seen much of this--probably because Oregon Dems are nearly all progressives.  It raises a number of interesting questions, however.  To what extent is "Lieberman-ing" a candidate healthy for a party?  What are the implications of independent out-of-state PACs targeting Oregon incumbents?  How might these outside groups affect the homegrown Democratic agenda?


  • (Show?)

    Normally I'm in the anti-infighting camp. And, I'm really rather fed up hearing Socialists, Naderites, and Greens, attack Democratic leaders - Bill Clinton, Kulongoski, etc - for not being a "real Democrat" (by which they mean, not Socialist/Naderite/Green). It's the far left equivalent of the FOX news "advice" to Democrats - thinly disguised propaganda combined with a serious disassociation with reality.

    But even I have a limit. "Democrats for Bush?" If you were for Bush in 2004, you simply were not a Democrat. Period. The only possible way I could image voting for such a turkey is if he was in a blood-red county that would otherwise always - always - vote Republican.

    And even then, I'd have to think long and hard about it.

  • Dean (unverified)

    He also voted voted against increasing the minimum wage, sponsoring and voting for a bill that would have frozen the minimum wage. If that bill had passed, the minimum wage would now stand at $4.42 per hour.

    He also voted to support George W. Bush's social security pritization scheme, to reduce unemployment benefits in 2003 in the middle of a recession, against GLBT civil rights, against "clean cars" and "green buildings," against implentation and funding for Hanford Clean up, against biofuels standards, etc.

    He also led Democrats for Rossi, and, in 2002, gave $10,000 to help elect REPUBLICANS.

    Needless to say, this is an unusual move, but he's an unusual guy.

    Finally, about the out-of-state Pacs. Progressive Majority is a national organization with offices in Seattle, Phoenix, Denver, Madison, Los Angeles, Pittsburg and Philadelphia, and has one national bank account. Although Progressive Majority has donors in every state, it is not set up like NARAL or Conservation Voters with affiliate structures.

  • Garrett (unverified)

    I just don't understand why we would submarine one of our own even if we disagree once in a while. Having the majority is much more important than making sure we have "progressive" Democrats out there. We lost the South to the Republicans with that kind of attitude. The Lieberman/Lamont race is a perfect example. I'll give Lamont that now he actually has a prayer to beat Lieberman in the general election. He probably won't. What do we get because moveon.org (who I am a part of and donate to) decided Lieberman wasn't a good enough Democrat? If Lieberman wins now we have a guy who might vote with us sometimes. He's most likely going to be pissed off at the Democrats and what happens if he changes his party affiliation?

    The Democratic agenda is there but we need the majority to put it through. That is far more important than trying to make sure we kick out an incumbent who is a slam dunk in the general election because he voted for the war in Iraq.

  • (Show?)

    Lieberman-ing the party is the healthiest thing Democrats have done in a long time.

    Secondly, I don't think the problem is out-of-state PACs getting involved, it's out-of-state PACs not bothering to gather local information about the race before they do. There are rural candidates living in fear of a glossy independent expenditure made "on their behalf".

    Thankfully, Progressive Majority's local representatives do homework on the ground before getting involved in any race. Their mission is to do more than give money - it's to give promising progressive candidates the campaign training and guidance they need to win. I wish more PACs would do the research that PM does before dumping money or anything else into local races.

  • Dean (unverified)

    Sheldon's primary opponent has also been endorsed by the State Democratic Party, the four county democratic parties, and the 35th LD Democrats.

  • Bert Lowry (unverified)

    I agree with Marissa. I think part of the reason Democrats are surging on the national front is we're standing for our beliefs and demanding our candidates do as well. That attitude appeals to the middle of the road voters who are less swayed by particular issues than their general impression of the party or candidate.

    Certainly Bush's mistakes and the stunning incompetence and corruption of Republican rule helps our chances. But I also believe our willingness to fight for our values helps.

    And Lieberman was genuinely hurting the party by showing up on TV every Sunday morning to denounce Democrats. Senator Max Baucus is a conservative Democrat (at least as conservative as Lieberman), but no one is talking about challenging him. Why? Because he doesn't slam other Democrats.

  • (Show?)

    I can't say strongly enough how much I support "Leiberman-ing." That's what primaries are for! The Democratic voters in a given district or state decide who will best their interests. The Republicans do likewise. Then the two duke it out to see who gets elected. That's how our two-party system works, for better or for worse. Just because you win once doesn't mean you get your party's nomination for life. There is no entitlement here. If you fail to represent your constituents, you should know there's a very real possibility you will be held accountable and voted out of office. I seem to recall one of the founders of this site getting involved in a primary challenge against a less progressive opponent. This is such a no-brainer to me I can't even understand the opposition.

    Now, there is a right and a wrong way to run a primary challenge. The national and state parties need to referee and make sure the mud-slinging doesn't get out of control. But I think, contrary to conventional wisdom, primaries are a good thing. A candidate who emerges from a tough (but not overly negative) primary comes to the general election with higher name recognition, a better fundraising network (plus, if they're playing nice, his/her opponents' network or networks), and a better ground organization. On the downside, they have less money, but this is at least partially offset by the increased profile (I also have an idea, below, that may help with the money issue).

    Frankly, there are only three downsides to contested primaries that I can see and all three can be easily solved by having strong oversight by state/national parties. First, a neutral body should be set up to screen messaging and make sure it doesn't get dirty. Any candidate who goes too negative will receive a stern and well-publicized reprimand from the state or national party. Second, the contestants must abide by the results. Contestants will be expected to take a "unity pledge" to support the winner. "Liebermans" lose all seniority and committee positions immediately. Third, the party should dictate that each candidate reserve a third of its funds for the general election. The party holds these funds in trust for the eventual winner, whomever that may be.

    The trick is keeping the party in an oversight/moderating position and not a meddling position coughIL-06cough. I think Dean at the DNC gets that. I'm pretty sure Emmanuel and Schumer don't, but hopefully they'll come around. Locally, we seem to have folks that could probably handle that responsibility. Of course, if you have candidates who truly have the best interest of the party and their constituents at heart, it's a whole lot easier...

  • LT (unverified)

    Seems to me the 2nd Cong. Dist. folks got the primary thing right in 2006.

    I was involved in such a primary over 20 years ago. The candidates (mostly) remained on civil terms with each other knowing they'd all be in the same political circles after the November election. More importantly, politics in 2006 could benefit from the level of issue discussion that went on in that primary.

  • (Show?)

    In general, I'm not a fan of targeting incumbents in Democratic primaries. To be sure, I was pretty seriously skeptical of "Lieberman-ing" even Joe Lieberman. Not to rehash that fight, but he had a strong record on labor, environment, and choice. He just sucked on the war.

    That said, I think it's also true that if we don't stand for something, we'll fall for anything. What's the point of being a Democrat if you're not at least somewhat good on a range of issues? It's not really about just wearing the blue uniform - especially not just in a safe seat. If the district will elect any Democrat, then let's get the best one we can.

    Of course, on the flip-side, I remember working for a swing-seat incumbent in Long Beach, California. The guy was terrible on a whole range of issues - choice, environment, three-strikes, Prop 187 (the original anti-immigrant measure), you name it. When I was asked by a volunteer why we were supporting him, the answer was simple: "Because Willie Brown, our Democratic Speaker, says that this guy is vote #41. The critical swing seat." Well, we lost that race in 1994 (partly because RJR dropped $250k in the last two weeks) and the CA leg split 40-40. The seat really was #41. There ensued a chaotic five months that ultimately led to the Democrats losing control for the first time in many decades.

    As the great Willie Brown is fond of saying, in politics you only need one skill: counting. And in the legislature, if you can count to a majority, everything else is easy.

    If it's a choice between a Democrat and a Republican, I'll take the Democrat every time -- no matter how bad he is on the issues. But if it's a choice between two Democrats, give me the progressive.

  • (Show?)

    I also am no absolutist on "Lieberman-ing"--I think setting up purity standards is a dangerous practice, but there should also be little room in a caucus for a politician who consistantly acts to subvert the message of the whole. I was all in favor of Lieberman-ing Lieberman--because despite what Kari writes, he has in his last term not been a particularly reliable vote for progressive issues. Worse, he often spent a lot of public time peddling anti-Democratic smears on Fox and in the Wall Street Journal. Running him out wasn't so much the exercise of a purity standard as self-defense.

    I know only of Tim Sheldon what I read in that article, but from the description there, he seems clearly like a guy who's ready to throw Dems under the train. I don't see any reason not to Lieberman him.

    As to national PACs, this is a tough question. It's hard for a state legislative candidate to muster piles of cash to challenge an incumbent, and national PACs are a pretty nice ATM. But if the local candidates/parties aren't coordinating the effort, it does throw candidates back in the old position of having to watch the interest of their donors more than their constituents. The Democratic Party has gotten into trouble with this in the past--working for the narrow interest of PACs to the disservice of a larger, more cohesive agenda.

  • spicey (unverified)

    Thanks Jeff and Kari. I really appreciate your perspectives on these issues. This site helps me think about things. Kudos and have a great weekend.

  • Chuck Butcher (unverified)

    Primaries are absolutely essential to the construction of politics reflective of the voters. A b s o l u t e l y. Independents had better get past their "pride" and step up. There is exactly one chance to construct a political contest of our desire, that is by picking who gets to run. Now I say that as an 11% loser. So what? I offered the Democrats of the 2nd CD something different than the usual, they had that offer, without the Primary that offer wouldn't have been made by me or my fellow candidates.

    Politicians become insulated, they live in a culture outside that of their constituents with other concerns and ways of doing things. Getting Lieberman'd is one way of saying, "Reality calls." It isn't so much a litmus test as it is a connectedness test, and egoists like Joe had better pay attention, especially if the "independents" come back to parties. Independents could also find themselves in a position of not having to vote for the least offensive candidate.

    <h2>I know, I keep saying this and I keep getting back, "well I don't like either party" so then come help change them!!! Do something POSITIVE with your outrage.</h2>
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