Democrats have a primary problem. In a year where Democrats should be uniting and playing offense in an effort to retake the Senate, bitter primaries in unexpected races have erupted, leaving them Democrats to fight amongst themselves rather than fight for voters. POLITICO reports on the intra-party skirmishes:
Democrats would prefer not to have [Ohio Senate candidate] Sittenfeld’s campaign sniping at Strickland. They would feel better about their chances in Pennsylvania if former Rep. Joe Sestak and former state environmental protection secretary Katie McGinty weren’t about to spend months and millions battling each other instead of focusing their energies on incumbent Sen. Pat Toomey. And in Florida, some Democrats fear next August’s primary could produce a virtually unelectable nominee.
National Democrats don’t have much room to complain. Most of the problems are the result of either micromanagement, which runs counter to the anti-establishment thread weaving its way through this election cycle, or mismanagement, which is stoking the fires of some questionable candidates. But if nothing else, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s bungling is entertaining in its variety.
For instance, in Illinois, national Democrats quickly lined up behind Rep. Tammy Duckworth only to find themselves being accused of discrimination by Andrea Zopp, the popular former chief of the Chicago Urban League.
After the DSCC took the odd step of giving Duckworth an early endorsement, Zopp responded by saying that she was “saddened and shocked that the DSCC would issue an endorsement without even interviewing me” and accused the group of “total insensitivity to Chicago, African-American women and the democratic process.”
Zopp is not alone. Chicago heavyweights like Jesse Jackson, Chicago Public Schools board president Frank Clark, and Cook county board president Toni Preckwinkle, rushed to her side, creating a serious perception problem for national Democrats. Chicago Magazine writes:
Public Policy Polling had Duckworth leading Zopp by a mile, 59 versus 10 percent, in July. But pundits suspect that the DCSS slight could galvanize black Chicagoans to get out the vote for Zopp like they did for Obama in 2012. In that election, 69.5 percent of the black population in Illinois voted, compared with just 55.7 percent of white residents. “This started out as a DSCC coronation ceremony for Duckworth,” says David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. “I think it could easily backfire. You don’t want to disrespect the African American community in a primary.”
In Ohio, Democrats are facing a much different problem, though once again it is one of their own creation. There, national Democrats wooed a fresh faced challenger named P.G. Sittenfeld, whom the party thought would provide a nice contrast with GOP Sen. Rob Portman. Then former Gov. Ted Strickland jumped in the race and the DSCC immediately rushed to endorse him, despite losing in a head-to-head matchup with Portman just six years ago. Unsurprisingly, the haphazard decision to pull the rug out from Sittenfeld—who remains in the race and is leaching money and supporters from Strickland—upset some Democrat strategists.
“I don’t think leadership at the DSCC has done an effective job at avoiding some of these primaries,” a Democratic strategist told POLITICO. “When you have a candidate like Sittenfeld who’s willing to engage with national Democrats, you have a lot more leeway to convince him not to run.”
In Pennsylvania, national Democrats created the opposite problem – their unwillingness to engage gave oxygen to the campaign of Joe Sestak, a retread who is known for being unpredictable and quite frankly, a little loopy. As a result they’ve alienated EMILY’s List, a powerful PAC that supports women candidates, which worked hard to lure Katie McGinty, a former gubernatorial and presidential aide.
“Joe is different—he marches to his own drum, no question” former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell put it nicely.
“He still thinks he’s an admiral. And he thinks everyone should stand up and salute him,” a Democrat officeholder told National Journal.
But the DSCC should have seen this coming. After all, it happened last cycle as well. In that race, the DSCC lined up behind Sen. Arlen Specter, who they were trying to reward for switching party affiliations, only to have Sestak jump into the primary, beat Specter, and then lose to Sen. Pat Toomey in the general election.
The DSCC is even mucking things up in the unlikeliest of places. POLITICO reports:
In two safely blue states with primaries unlikely to alter the balance of power — California and Maryland — establishment endorsements could alienate key voting blocs. The embrace of state Attorney General Kamala Harris over Rep. Loretta Sanchez unsettled Latino voters in California, while Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s decision to endorse Rep. Chris Van Hollen over Rep. Donna Edwards could anger black voters in Maryland.
Coming into this year Democrats understood that there was absolutely no room for ever if they hoped to win back the Senate. And yet somehow, they’ve become their own worst enemy, being too aggressive in some areas and too passive in others. If they can’t run their own races with any sense of nuance, how can voters expect them to run the country?