Tag Archives: Arlen Specter

Tomorrow’s Primaries Could Chart Destiny for 2010

In 2006, Democrats took back control of Congress because of public outrage at George Bush and the War in Iraq.  But we should remember it almost didn’t happen – until August, when Ned Lamont proved that Democrats can galvanize that energy to beat an incumbent Senator in a primary.  Tomorrow, Pennsylvania Democrats will be asked to dump ex-Republican Arlen Specter – and in Arkansas, conservative Senator Blanche Lincoln also faces a primary challenge.  And just like Joe Lieberman, the Party establishment is circling the wagons in both states – with President Obama shooting a radio ad that claims Lincoln “took on big insurance companies” to pass health care.  A new poll shows that voters prefer Democrats over Republicans, which suggests that 2010 may not be the nightmare everyone fears.  But it also showed that voters hate incumbents.  If Democrats want to avoid a bloodbath in November, Specter and Lincoln must be defeated.

In a development that Democrats are celebrating, last week’s Associated Press poll found that voters prefer a “generic Democrat” over a “generic Republican” for Congress by a 45-40 margin.  That’s almost a complete reversal from last month, but the poll also shows a dangerous trend – only one-third would re-elect their own Congressmember.  Far from just Teabaggers on the right who are waging a Stalinist purge of Republicans, there is disenchantment on the left that explains the malaise.  And so far, the Democratic leadership and Obama White House are refusing to recognize it.

If Blanche Lincoln and Arlen Specter survive the Democratic primary, it will only get worse.  There is no guarantee Specter or Lincoln would beat their Republican challengers in November – in fact, odds are against it.  In Arkansas, Republican John Boozeman beats Lincoln by 14 points.  In Pennsylvania, Specter quit the GOP because right-winger Pat Toomey would beat him in the primary.  If they face each other in the general, Specter loses byeight points.

Does this mean their progressive challengers – Bill Halter in Arkansas, and Joe Sestak in Pennyslvania – would win?  Not necessarily, but the odds are much greater.  Match-up polls show both Democrats doing better against the Republican in November, but a more important metric is the “favorable/unfavorable” numbers.  As incumbents, Lincoln and Specter have high name-recognition – and voters don’t like them.  You can’t convince someone who’s already made up their mind to change it.  With Halter and Sestak, the outcome is more fluid – because voters will be open to persuasion come November.

Democratic elites always lecture progressive activists about “electability” – how we must temper our idealism and support for liberal candidates for the “greater good” of defeating Republicans.  And yet, Organizing for America – the President’s “field team” that helped him defeat Hillary Clinton and John McCain – is urging supporters to help Lincoln and Specter win the primary.  While I’m sure many of us would support Lincoln and Specter (albeit grudgingly) if they win the primary, to do so now is sick and counterproductive.

Let’s review things for a minute.  As a moderate Republican, Arlen Specter co-sponsored the Employee Free Choice Act in 2007 – but balked in 2009 because of pressure from the right-wing of his party.  After becoming a Democrat in April 2009, he nevertheless remained opposed to EFCA and did not repudiate his prior support for a flat tax when I asked him directly.  He’s been a decent Democratic vote over the past year, but only after Sestak opted to challenge him.

Blanche Lincoln’s record is even worse.  As the White House pushed for health care reform, she vowed to filibuster any bill that included a “public option” – even when her Arkansas constituents supported it.  In other words, she was entering in cahoots with Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans to block any vote on President Obama’s highest legislative priority – one he took so seriously that everything else had to wait.  If Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had a spine, this would have been treated as an act of war.

Senators rarely lose re-election – not to mention a primary in their own party – which is why it’s so hard to hold them accountable with a serious candidate.  When Joe Lieberman lost in 2006, it was the first time that a Democratic Senator failed to get re-nominated in fourteen years.  The fact that two incumbents now stand to get primaried in the same year is remarkable, and should be a serious “wake-up call” to the Democratic Party leaders.

But the leadership is circling the wagons – because the Senate is a “club” (often known as the world’s most exclusive club), and incumbents are terrified that a primary challenge to Lincoln and Specter could mean they’re next.  San Francisco readers will recall how the State Senate rallied around Carole Migden (despite her liabilities as an incumbent), when Mark Leno ran against her in 2008.  What we see right now at the national level is not all that different.

Like we’ve seen before, the task for progressives now is to save the Democratic Party from itself.  We will not see the glaring “enthusiasm gap” between Democrats and Republicans shrink if Blanche Lincoln and Arlen Specter win the primary.  They will stand to lose to a cadre of right-wing challengers in November, which will only embolden the Sarah Palin crowd to bring back the Bush Administration.  That’s why it’s so crucial to help Halter and Sestak.

Fortunately, you don’t have to be in Arkansas or Pennsylvania to help out.  MoveOn can help you call its Arkansas members, and recruit them to volunteer for Bill Halter.  Joe Sestak’s campaign website enables you to make virtual calls to Pennsylvania.  It is these tools that elected Barack Obama, and now we’re using them to rescue his legacy.

Of course, everyone knows that Joe Lieberman was a sore loser after Ned Lamont won the primary, stayed in the race as an independent and – with active support from Karl Rove – won re-election.  But the same won’t happen this time.  In both Arkansas and Pennsylvania, the deadlines to file as an independent candidate have already lapsed.

Paul Hogarth is the Managing Editor of Beyond Chron, San Francisco’s Alternative Online Daily, where this piece was first published.

40 Days Until Sestak-Specter and Halter-Lincoln

{First, a cheap plug for my blog Senate Guru.}

40 days from today – on May 18 – we will see two HUGE primaries for U.S. Senate.  Even though these races aren’t in California, they impact Democrats across the country and, well, the entire country as a whole.

In Pennsylvania, Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak will try to upset Republican-for-decades Arlen Specter.

In Arkansas, Democratic Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter will try to upset corporate lackey Blanche Lincoln.

These two races are tremendously important to defining who and what the Democratic Party is and what we will be fighting for.

If you can volunteer for these candidates (or encourage friends and family in Pennsylvania and Arkansas to do so), that would be amazing.

Of course, if you can help with a contribution to either or both via the Expand the Map! ActBlue page as soon as possible, it will make a big impact.

Expand the Map! ActBlue page
Joe Sestak

Facebook, Twitter

Volunteer Page
Bill Halter

Facebook, Twitter

Volunteer Page
Expand the Map! ActBlue page

Polling shows that both Specter and Lincoln are at risk of – if not likely to – hand these Senate seats over to far-right-wing Republicans. (And, even if these two retain the seats, that’s not much better on many key issues.)

Congressman Sestak and Lieutenant Governor Halter winning these primaries are critical to keeping these seats in truly Democratic hands. Your support can help make that happen!  Please hop over to the Expand the Map! ActBlue page right away to make a contribution – an investment in the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party to pull out an old expression – and show your support.

Thanks SO much for any support you can provide. 40 Days.

PA-Sen: Netroots Overwhelmingly Support a Draft Sestak Effort

{First, a cheap plug for my blog Senate Guru.}

Netroots for Sestak As many of you know, over the last five days, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in partnership with a number of progressive organizations and blogs including Senate Guru, asked those in the netroots, “Should a Draft Sestak movement be created to take on Sen. Arlen Specter in the Pennsylvania Democratic primary?”

The results are in and they are overwhelming.  85% of Pennsylvanian respondents and 86% of respondents nationally want Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak to challenge Arlen Specter in the 2010 Democratic Senate primary.  The poll has even gotten the attention of Congressman Sestak, as the PCCC points out:

“I am honored that so many of you took the time to vote in the recent grassroots Straw Poll. Let me tell you, I and many others were paying attention. If I decide to run it will be in large measure because of the grassroots energy of so many people like you. Until I and my family make that decision, please accept my thanks and my best wishes as you continue be active participants in our people-powered democracy. Thank you so very much!”

Due to such an overwhelming response, a Draft Sestak Fund has been created on ActBlue.  To contribute and further encourage Congressman Sestak to enter the race, click on the image below:

Draft Sestak Fund

If you need any additional motivation to contribute to this effort to draft a real Democrat to oppose Specter in the primary, consider Specter’s actions since announcing his Party switch:

1) Specter opposed the Obama budget.

2) Specter opposed the “cramdown” mortgage/bankruptcy reform, siding with banks over families.

3) Specter reiterated his opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act.

4) Specter reiterated his opposition to President Obama’s nomination of Dawn Johnsen to the Office of Legal Counsel.

5) Specter announced his support for Republican Norm Coleman over Democratic Senator-elect Al Franken in Minnesota’s Senate race.

6) Specter promoted a website that appeared to raise money for cancer research but, in actuality, simply raised money for his campaign.

7) Specter denied reports that he told President Obama that he would be a “loyal Democrat” despite multiple reporters sticking to their story.

The netroots have displayed overwhelming support for Congressman Sestak to take on recently-Republican Arlen Specter.  Help the effort by contributing to the Draft Sestak Fund.

PA-Sen: A Draft Sestak Effort?

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, working with a number of progressive organizations and blogs including Senate Guru, has put out a poll to gauge netroots interest – in California and all across the country – in supporting an effort to draft Congressman Joe Sestak to challenge recently-Republican Arlen Specter in the PA-Sen Democratic primary next year.  The poll will be open for the next four days, and provided are both pro and con arguments regarding a draft effort.  To read the arguments and vote in the poll, click the below link:

Sestak vote

Allow Me to Make A Pre-Emptive Strike

The talk of the nation yesterday was, of course, Arlen Specter’s switch from Republican to Democrat in the U.S. Senate, effectively delivering a filibuster-proof majority to the Demcorats upon the seating of Al Franken.  Specter’s move was precipitated by a poll showing Specter trailing Club for Feudalism Growth candidate Pat Toomey by over 20 points.  

Most of the commentary since has correctly focused since on the rightward shift of the Republican Party as a whole, and the regressive Neanderthal nature of its base, which drags the party backward and away from the mainstream even as the progressive base pulls the Democratic Party forward, mostly into positions supported by a majority of the electorate.

But there’s a danger in interpreting the Specter decision as simply a function of extremists vs. moderates, playing into a Broderite concern for a loss of “bipartisanship”.  Let us ignore for a moment the argument that “moderate” should be defined on a national rather than individual Party scale, as those supporting the majority of American opinion: national healthcare, an immediate end to the occupation of Iraq, etc.  That would be too easy.  

No, the problem is that I can already hear the mewling of Democratic consultants in California, tying any moves toward accountability by progressives, including but not limited to primaries against the likes of Jane Harman or Dianne Feinstein, to the shortsighted actions of Pat Toomey and his merry band of fools.

There’s a big difference–so, in the spirit of Jane Harman, allow me to make a pre-emptive strike in an effort to nip any such whining in the bud.  The difference isn’t whether to take action against squishes and “moderates” in one’s party, but where to do so.

The fact is that Pennsylvania’s Republicans are a bunch of morans.  There’s a simple decision function that decides whether to primary a so-called “moderate” within one’s own party.  It goes something like this:

If your “moderate” is in hostile territory, defend them.  If your “moderate” is in friendly territory, primary them and get a “purer” candidate.

That’s a pretty simple equation.  In Pennsylvania, where Democrats hold a voter registration edge of over 1 million votes and where Obama racked up a huge margin of victory, a Republican challenge to their own incumbent is political suicide.  Whether Specter had switched or fallen in the Primary is irrelevant: derailing him is the functional equivalent of handing the Senate seat over to the Democratic Party.  In fact, given Pat Toomey inevitable spanking at the polls in 2010, Specter’s switch is about as good an outcome as Republicans could possibly hope for.

On the other hand, had Arlen Specter been from, say, Oklahoma, it would be a very different picture.  In that case, the republican Party would be smart to punish Specter for his many betrayals of their fundamentalist “principles”.  Of course, the GOP’s problem is that they’ve pretty much already purged every moderate in solidly conservative districts–and many like Specter and Chafee in liberal areas.

Ultimately, what this shows is the disparity not only in moral clarity but more importantly in political acumen between the progressive and the conservative base:  the progressive base isn’t stupid enough to primary, say, Ben Nelson in Nebraska or Mary Landrieu in Louisiana.  We know that we’ll take what we can get there.

But there’s no reason we should have to put up with the shenanigans of Dianne Feinstein and Jane Harman here in deep blue California and Venice Beach.  No reason at all.

And any Broderite who even starts to equate moves in California (or elsewhere in blue areas across the nation) to hold our squishes accountable, to the efforts of the Club for Growth in Pennsylvania, will only display a profound lack of political acumen.  But then, that’s entirely expected.  Hence the pre-emptive strike.

Arlen Specter’s Impact on Al Franken

{First, a cheap plug for my blog Senate Guru.}

NormDollar.com Before Arlen Specter’s Party switch announcement yesterday, the Senate’s Democratic caucus stood at 58 members.  Senator-elect Al Franken represented Democrats’ 59th vote toward cloture, still short of reliably ending Republican filibusters.  But now, with Specter joining the Democratic caucus, Senator-elect Franken represents the big 6-0, which is why Republicans will redouble their efforts to delay Senator-elect Franken’s seating – and why we in the netroots must redouble our efforts to send obstructionist Republicans a message and also provide them with adequate disincentive from delaying Senator-elect Franken’s seating any further.

Since the “One Dollar a Day to Make Norm Coleman Go Away” effort started just a couple weeks ago, about $40,000 has been raised to remind the Republicans funding Norm Coleman’s endless appeals that, for every single day that they delay the implementation of the will of Minnesota voters, progressive voters will raise money to use against these Republicans on Election Day 2010.

Your support will strengthen that message!

Norm Coleman and his fellow Republicans recently scored a success in further delaying Senator-elect Franken’s seating, as the trial schedule adopted by the state Supreme Court for Coleman’s appeal is such that oral arguments before the Court won’t begin until June 1st, over a month from now.  Further, although Minnesota election policy dictates that Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty must prepare and sign Senator-elect Franken’s election certificate once the state Supreme Court hands down its decision, Pawlenty has hemmed and hawed as to whether he would follow state election policy accordingly.

With a D next to Arlen Specter’s name, Republicans will go full force to block Senator-elect Franken’s seating.  Please join us in eliminating Republicans’ incentive to delay Senator-elect Franken’s seating any further by taking part in the “One Dollar a Day to Make Norm Coleman Go Away” effort.  At right is video of the segment on MSNBC’s Hardball highlighting the effort.


Feinstein Gets The Message – But Looks to Compromise Her Way Out Of It

If you didn’t already know, the Senate Judiciary Committee reported out a FISA bill yesterday that does not grant immunity to telecom companies for participating in the illegal spying on Americans in George Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program.  It’s convoluted, but there were basically two bills, a Title I and a Title II.  Title I had no immunity; Title II did.  Russ Feingold tried to strip immunity from Title II, but he failed, and DiFi voted for immunity.  But at the end of the day, only Title I got reported out.

This is NOT a total victory.  First of all, Harry Reid could decide to bring the Intelligence Committee’s bill, which has immunity, to the full floor.  And there will almost certainly be an amendment calling for immunity on the floor, even if an immunity-free bill is called up for vote.  So the Judiciary Committee basically punted.

But this James Risen article untangling what happened yesterday has an interesting little nugget halfway down the page.

Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the panel, is pushing a plan that would substitute the federal government as the defendant in the lawsuits against the telecommunications companies. That would mean that the government, not the companies, would pay damages in successful lawsuits.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, said in an interview after the vote Thursday that he would support a compromise along the lines of the Specter proposal.

Mr. Whitehouse was one of two Democrats who voted against an amendment proposed by Senator Russ Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, that would have banned immunity for the companies. “I think there is a good solution somewhere in the middle,” Mr. Whitehouse said.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who also opposed Mr. Feingold’s measure, pleaded with Mr. Leahy to defer the immunity issue because she wants more time to consider several compromise proposals.

(I was under the impression that Herb Kohl also voted against the Feingold Amendment -ed.)

Feinstein had no need for compromise earlier in the week.  She was gung-ho for telecom immunity.  Clearly the pushback in the Senate amped up the desire for compromise, even if Specter’s is a fig leaf that would still get the telecoms off the hook while effectively stopping lawsuits through an expected invocation of state secrets.  But I have to assume that the heat Feinstein is taking from the grassroots back in California is driving her thinking as well.  If Leahy passed out immunity she would be seen as the biggest cheerleader for it – AGAIN, after Southwick and Mukasey.  It would be the last straw.  So she’s trying to get out in front and take credit for some kind of compromise that will eventually come.

So the progressive movement can take a little credit for winning this battle, as DFA did in a hyperventilating email last night.  We have not yet won the war, and there will absolutely be a floor fight and a bullshit centrist compromise to work against. 

This isn’t over.

(Also the rest of the bill is pretty good, and has things that the Bush Administration has vowed to reject, always a good thing.  But will the Congress cave?  That’s the big question.)

UPDATE: This DKos post notes that Harry Reid is going to bring up the Intelligence Committee bill as the main bill, with the Judiciary Committee bill as a substitute.  That’s the exact opposite of what he said yesterday.  This is very fluid and there’s likely to be shenanigans.