Democrats Doomed If They Run as Incumbents

Joe Sestak

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.

Paul Hogarth

Republished with permission from BeyondChron.


  1. allen_osuno says

    So the voters, in their anger, want to put Republicans back in charge who made the mess the Dems have been charged with cleaning up? Isn’t that a little stupid to re-elect those who put our country in the poorhouse and will do so again if put back in power?

    • says

      I wouldn’t say the voters want to put Republicans back in charge. But our base is so disillusioned right now that they won’t vote. The electorate that will turn out will vote Republican, because Democrats stay at home – and it would be 1994 all over again. We cannot let the right-wing steal the “change” label. Not after eight years of Bush-Cheney.

      • Marshall says

        In as much that progressives are a small group among the total of our citizens, why is it that you seem to think your group should be able to select the congress or President?

    • Marshall says

      I remember the dems having control of the house when the bail outs were written, true Bush did sign the first one, but I also remember him talking it over with Obama before and then Obama signed the next group of bailouts and he did not follow current laws of how a company repaid investors. Bond holders of auto companies, and stock holders of auto companies were ahead of union workers, but received nothing while unions received equity ahead of said bond/stock holders. The 72nd ranked auto seller was sold out and replaced by another firm that had a lessor ranking but had closer ties to corp management. I voted for a black man long before Obama but he will not get my votes now.

      • dusty says

        Friend Marshall,

        And what makes you think that progressives are a small group of our total citizenry? We are a lot larger fraction of the population than are millionaires and billionaires and our needs and views better reflect the needs of the general populace than do those of the fat cats who do nothing.

        Why should investors in auto companies who made bad investments be bailed out? They shouldn’t, investment is a risk and they took it, just as the banks and financials shouldn’t have been bailed out, but rather jailed for defrauding their investors and the general public through the manipulation of markets, the over appraisal of properties to allow loans to be secured … etc.

        Investors don’t build cars, autoworkers do. Without the cars made by autoworkers to sell then there is no hope at all for the investors. You don’t seem to understand what production is as over against sitting on the side lines hoping to make money off other people’s work. Get a grip, begin to appreciate labor and then things will begin to come into focus.

    • Kraig says

      False premise. Republicans had plenty of help from a democrat controlled congress, a war weary public, and scare mongering over the financial crisis (don’t bail, let them fail). And if this is the best you can do to “clean up” you need to put down the broom.

      We we enjoyed many years of a great economy under Bush (2001 to 2008)Dems were trying to tell us it was a bad economy… really? Well, please take me back to 4.5% unemployment, available capitol, and lower taxes. There is a direct correlation between Democratic/liberal/progressive policies and a weak economy… it’s not a mystery.

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