Democrats just can’t help themselves. At a time when the party has been battered and bruised in recent elections over its defiant espousal of President Obama’s liberal agenda, Democratic candidates are moving further leftward, seemingly convinced that voters will follow.
The questionable strategy is rearing its head in the form of numerous primary challengers, which could dampen Democrats’ hope of retaking the Senate, making any meaningful gains in the House, and retaining the White House. The Washington Post reports:
In municipal and statewide Democratic primaries all across the country, liberal candidates have emerged in strong competition against more moderate opponents at a time when the party base is increasingly longing for populist, outspoken standard-bearers. The result could be something akin to what Republicans have dealt with as tea party candidates have been battling centrist Republicans.
The intra-party divisiveness is perhaps most evident in Maryland, where Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s retirement is creating a chaotic situation in which dozens of candidates are considering a bid. On the one side is Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who Sen. Harry Reid has called “the best and most effective person for the job” and also in the “strongest position to make sure the seat remains in Democratic hands.”
That endorsement has already stoked the ire of several high profile donors, who went so far as to call Reid’s endorsement “insulting.”
Rep. Donna Edwards, who would be the first African American to represent the state in the Senate, is already taking shots at Van Hollen from the left. In a two-minute video announcing her candidacy she made clear to point out that she would not support any reforms to Social Security (“no ifs, but or willing to considers”), a jab directed at Van Hollen’s attempt to find a path forward on a bipartisan deficit reduction plan.
But that’s not the end of the turmoil. Just hours after announcing their bids, both Edwards and Van Hollen sought the support of Rep. Elijah Cummings, one of the most influential politicians in Maryland, only to find out that he may be throwing his hat in the ring as well.
“Mr. Cummings is senior to both of them and probably has better statewide recognition,” a senior Democratic operative told POLITICO. “As it stands today, I would not be surprised at all if he gets in.”
These three candidates, in addition to the nearly ten others who are considering running, is likely to lead to a bitter, divisive primary that could give Republicans a path to victory.
“It’s going to be a nasty, nasty primary,” one Democratic state legislator told The Hill. “When you have primaries with people that have such similar voting records, it usually comes down to character attacks.”
Maryland is far from the only state where the Senate race is getting ugly.
In Ohio, former Gov. Ted Strickland thought that an endorsement from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee would clear the field of challengers. But Cincinnati City Council Member P.G. Sittenfeld, who has attracted some big-name donors, was unfazed. “I’m not running because I’m young,” Sittenfeld said in a clear jab at the 70-year-old Strickland. But, he added, “I’m not constrained by the rigid ideology of yesterday.”
In Pennsylvania, Rep. Joe Sestak, who ran and lost in 2010, is causing Democratic Party leaders to undertake a “quiet, intensive search” to recruit a primary challenger because they think he’s a loner and loose cannon that can’t win.
In Florida, Charlie Crist, who has changed his party affiliation three times in three elections recently added his name to the ever-growing list of Democrats who may run for Senate. Other names include Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Rep. Patrick Murphy, Rep. Gwen Graham, Rep. Alan Grayson and Rep. Kathy Castor.
And in Oregon several prominent left-wing groups are watching Sen. Ron Wyden’s every move to determine whether they need to recruit a primary challenger because of Wyden’s recent support for free trade agreements.
If these moves are any indication, Democrats are in for a long and brutal primary season. And while Democrats are running to the left to secure their party’s nomination, Republicans will be racing forward, toward Election Day.