“Are you ready for a political revolution?” a fiery Bernie Sanders asked at a rally in Omaha while campaigning for Heath Mello in the race for Omaha mayor.
The answer, was no. Despite national attention and the personal interest of Sanders, who has become a figurehead for the activist left, Mello was defeated by Republican Jean Stothert by 9 points. It was yet another miss for Democrats, who are now 0-3 in high-profile, post-inauguration elections despite throwing vast amounts of resources into them.
In some ways this one hurts the most. If Democrats can’t build their anti-Trump momentum in a place like Omaha, which has more registered Democrats than Republicans, and went for Hillary Clinton over Trump in the presidential election, then where will it happen? After all, if millions of dollars and high profile endorsements isn’t enough to tip the scales in these one-off races then how on earth can they scale that effort when the entire House of Representatives is up for reelection in 2018?
Ultimately, Mello losing wasn’t the most interesting thing about the race. That distinction goes to the sharp party divisions that Mello’s stance on abortion raised within the Democratic Party.
Mello was raised Catholic and supported several pro-life measures during his time as a state representative. This was apparently all some Democrats needed to turn on their candidate.
“The actions today by the DNC to embrace and support a candidate for office who will strip women – one of the most critical constituencies for the party – of our basic rights and freedom is not only disappointing, it is politically stupid,” Ilyse Hogue, the president of abortion rights advocate NARAL Pro-Choice America said of the Democratic National Committee’s decision to support a Democrat candidate. “Today’s action makes this so-called ‘fight back tour’ look more like a throw-back tour for women and our rights.”
DNC chairman Tom Perez folded under the pressure and seemingly created a new litmus test for Democratic candidates. “Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices.,” Perez said at a rally. “That is not negotiable and should not change city by city or state by state.”
Nebraska Democratic Party Chairwoman Jane Kleeb, seeing that the national party was abandoning a potential opportunity for a win was incensed.
“It’s astounding that our party chairman would say pro-life Democrats are not welcome,” Kleeb said after Mello conceded defeat.
Indeed, if Mello, who had a 100 percent rating from the local Planned Parenthood, and who received a personal endorsement from Bernie Sanders, is not liberal enough for today’s Democrats then who is? Eric Ferhnstrom, writing for the Boston Globe, has an uncomfortable answer for Democrats looking to claw their way back into the majority:
Take a look around: The Republicans control the White House, both branches of Congress, as well as a majority of governorships and state legislatures. No one’s taken a census of local tree wardens and tax assessors, but the odds are pretty good they lean Republican too. And what is the Democratic Party response? A Mao-like purge of dissenting views, which they believe will restore the party to its former glory.
All political parties face the same choice: They can turn the leadership of their organization over to either militants or consensus builders. In the case of the Democrats, they have chosen the militants. …
This will come as a surprise to the nearly one-quarter of Democrats who believe, according to the Pew Research Center, that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. By Perez’s odd reckoning, the way for Democrats to reclaim majority status in this country is by shrinking their numbers. Addition by subtraction is not an effective political strategy.
Mello attempted to fight back against this self-destructive strategy. He attempted to build a constituency that would win.
“We tried to run a campaign that was inclusive from the beginning regardless of political affiliation, regardless of ideology under the banner of change,” Mello said after his loss.
Unfortunately, he was overruled. Today’s Democrats have no time to make the tent bigger, they’re too busy purging the party of anything resembling a dissenting view.