Democrats Doomed if they Run as Incumbents

by Paul Hogarth on July 19, 2010

Less than two years after the voters gave Democrats a mandate for change, we are at risk of losing badly in November. All because progressives are demoralized, and Democrats are portrayed in the media and viewed by voters as defenders of the status quo. A new Pew Research poll is especially alarming to me – only 34% of voters correctly think the bank bailout happened under President Bush, whereas 47% wrongly believe it happened under President Obama. The public still wants “change” like they did in 2006 and 2008, but in 2010 Democrats are in “power” and they’re being held accountable for everything wrong that has happened. If Democrats want to rescue the political capital that helped them win elections before, it’s time to focus on candidates who are not the status quo – and who can channel the voters’ anger in a positive direction.

After the May 18th primaries – when Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter lost re-election to Democrat Joe Sestak, and Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln was forced in a runoff – I became hopeful that progressive Democrats were saving the party from itself. The anti-incumbent mood is not confined to the racist Tea Parties on the Right – but is just as potent on the Left, where progressives are disenchanted by a President who promised hope and change, only to capitulate to Joe Lieberman to pass a health care bill that requires us to all buy private insurance.

On May 18th, progressive Democrats who in 2008 helped Barack Obama block a Clinton dynasty were stronger than any leader – proving that even if the White House was behind Specter and Lincoln, the grassroots can still call the shots. But Blanche Lincoln winning on June 8th put a damper on those hopes – as she is now the Democratic nominee. And what it means is that Republican John Boozeman is now almost guaranteed to win that seat in November.

So what should Democrats do – if they want to stop November from being a bloodbath? Ignore House and Senate incumbents who obstructed the progressive agenda, and focus like a laser beam on candidates who are running against the status quo. A logical race to focus on is the Pennsylvania Senate seat. Now that he beat Arlen Specter and will face Republican Pat Toomey in November, activists must show Joe Sestak they have his back.

As for other seats to focus on, Democracy for America is asking progressives to vote on which House candidates to focus the bulk of their resources year. Currently in first place is Orange County’s Beth Krom, who I interviewed in April. Krom’s campaign is a great example of Howard Dean’s Fifty State Strategy.

Another exciting candidate is Rhode Island’s David Segal, a 30-year-old legislator and blogger running for Patrick Kennedy’s open seat. Unlike Krom, Segal is running in a safe blue district. But the real question there is if Democrats pick a nominee in September who will actually fight for progressive causes. Democrats already have a majority, so the challenge is to make that majority a meaningful one.

Later this week, I will attend the annual Netroots Nation conference in Las Vegas. One of the first panels on Thursday morning will be about getting behind progressive Democrats who challenge the status quo. I hope to meet some of these candidates, and will report back on this website.

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