Why No Progressives Are Running in 2008
by Chris Bowers, Fri Jun 17, 2005 at 10:12:45 AM EDT
With that out of the way, I would like to discuss how yesterday, along with many MyDD commenters, I was more than a little disturbed when I constructed The Great Thursday Presidential poll. Of the eight most likely contenders, there did not appear to be a clearly progressive option among the selections. I knew when I was constructing it there was not going to be a clearly progressive option. I knew it the night before when I had decided to post the poll. Hell, I knew it two months ago.
Let's face it: the progressive bench for possible Presidents is extremely thin. You just are not going to become President unless you have been at least one of the following: a General, A Senator, a Governor or a Vice-President. There are not many progressives currently or formerly occupying one of those positions, and some imaginary DLC conspiracy to marginalize the left wing of the Democratic Party is not to blame for this. Instead, over the last ten years, there have not been many progressive Democrats running for these offices. Further, from 1990 until very recently, when compared with the now well-established New Democratic infrastructure, there simply was no corresponding Progressive infrastructure to support those candidates that did run
For example, look at Democratic candidates for Senate in 2004 that came from the House: Bard Carson (Oklahoma), Chris John (Louisiana), Joe Hoeffel (Pennsylvania), and Denise Majette (Georgia). All four of these candidates were members of the House New Democratic Coalition during their time in Congress, and none of them were members of the Progressive caucus. In fact, in 2004 not a single one of the fifty-one members of the Progressive caucus ran for any higher office. If more progressives are going to run for President, they need to at least start by stepping up to the plate and running for something higher than the House.
Further, one has to wonder if, until recently, the progressive grassroots had as much to offer potential progressive candidates as the various New Democratic organizations. Long before MoveOn.org and Democracy for America, groups like New Democrat Network were working to identify and support moderate Democrats for higher office:In 1996 Lieberman, Breaux, and Simon Rosenberg founded the New Democrat Network political action committee. "Our role is to add political muscle," says Rosenberg. In the 1997-1998 reporting period, its first full cycle, NDN raised $1.4 million directly, and another $1.2 million in so-called "bundled" contributions, gathered at fundraisers for individual candidates and funneled through NDN. In the 1999-2000 period, NDN more than doubled its take, raising $4 million directly and bundling $1.45 million more, plus $450,000 for GoreLieberman. Nearly $2 million of NDN's take in the last cycle came in large, unregulated soft-money chunks from companies such as Aetna, AT&T, and Microsoft and from trade groups such as the Securities Industry Association, who helped sponsor a $1.2-million fundraiser honoring Lieberman on February 13.
NDN's brochures sound like investment prospectuses. "NDN acts as a political venture capital fund to create a new generation of elected officials," says the PAC. "NDN provides the political intelligence you need to make well-informed decisions on how to spend your political capital. Just like an investment advisor, NDN exhaustively vets candidates and endorses only those who meet our narrowly defined criteria."
With three full-time fundraisers plus consultants in New York and Los Angeles, NDN runs a prolific schedule, holding more than 100 events last year. Most of them are typical Washington, D.C., money events, with the usual cast of characters from PACs and lobbying houses; a smaller number are held around the country. NDN also holds some large-scale happenings: Last year, its annual legislative retreat was held at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, where members of the congressional New Democrat caucuses mingled with wealthy contributors from the private sector. Even more ambitious was its annual retreat in June, a three-day gathering spread out all over the San Francisco Bay Area, at which no less than 23 House and Senate Democrats met with executives who paid $1,000 each for the event, which was cosponsored with TechNet.
To many up-and-coming politicians, NDN's events are heaven-sent forums at which they can strut their stuff and ring up contributors. Case in point: Tom Carper, the newly elected senator from Delaware. Last year, NDN raised $55,000 for Carper's Senate race. But it provided an intangible benefit as well. "He's a believer," says Rosenberg. "In addition to all the support we gave him, he'd come to a lot of our other fundraisers, and he was able to meet a lot of new people and develop new contacts. That's one of the reasons why so many elected officials come to our events." For politicians like Carper, NDN is a pipeline for campaign contributions. For donors, NDN provides precertification that none of the politicians are noisy populists. "The candidates are validated to people in the room as New Democrats," says Rosenberg.
To ensure that liberals don't slip through the cracks, NDN requires each politician who seeks entree to its largesse and contacts to fill out a questionnaire that asks his or her views on trade, economics, education, welfare reform, and other issues. The questions are detailed, forcing candidates to state clearly whether or not they support views associated with the New Democrat Coalition, and it concludes by asking, "Will you join the NDC when you come to Congress?" Next, Rosenberg interviews each candidate, and then NDN determines which candidacies are viable before providing financial support.During this same time period, Progressives were not doing nearly as much to identify and support potential candidates for higher office. In fact, even though the gap has now been almost erased, even in 2004, moderate Democratic organizations still distributed more money to candidates than groups such as MoveOn. Further, that MoveOn was able to nearly equal New Democrat Network in 2004 probably came as more than a little surprise to anyone surveying the Democratic landscape in early 2003. No one knew this was going to happen, not even our beloved Blogfather. Considering all of this, is it any wonder that Denise Majette (87.5% loyalty in the 108th Congress) and Joe Hoeffel (96.9% loyalty in the 108th Congress), identified with the New Democratic House Coalition even though their voting records were far more in line with the Progressive Caucus? Starting from their first attempts to run for Congress and ending with their attempts at the Senate, what were Progressives offering them?
If Progressives want Progressive Democrats to run for President, then we have to greatly expand our potential Presidential bench. Right now, that bench is so thin that it can be easily derailed by one or two family happenings. In fact, the Progressive Presidential bench is so thin that we seriously consider people like Obama and Schweitzer even though they each first took statewide office less than six months ago. By way of contrast, the New Democratic Presidential bench, comprises all of the eight candidates listed in yesterday's poll. This is not something they managed to achieve overnight, or by way of conspiracy. It took literally decades of organizing, identifying, fundraising and grooming candidates to achieve that bench.
Progressives are in the process of building an equivalent, if not a superior, infrastructure to help do the things that organizations like the New Democrat Network have done for over a decade. However, the two most prominent such organizations within this infrastructure, Moveon.org and Democracy for America, are still in their infancy when it comes to identifying and supporting candidates. While we have seen many signs of progress, it is going to take a long time to achieve parity with New Democrats when it comes to statewide offices. More potential progressive Presidents, such as Eliot Spitzer and Jon Corzine, are on their way. However, we are still in the early stages, and this is going to take a long time.
At long last, this brings me to an action. Many of the progressives on MyDD who were complaining yesterday about the list of potential Democratic candidates in 2008 should turn their eyes to a glaring opportunity to help build the Progressive Presidential bench. As noted for the past week, Mike DeWine is an extremely vulnerable Republican Senator from Ohio (also here). Perhaps the best and most obvious Democratic candidate to challenge for this seat is Sherrod Brown., who also happens to be a member of the Progressive Caucus. Swing State Project has a great post on him here. If progressives truly are forward looking enough to start building the sort of bench they currently see and envy on the New Democratic side of our party, then they need to start a Draft Sherrod Brown movement now. Only by propelling the Sherrod Brown's, Eliot Spitzer's and Jon Corzine's of the world into power will progressives be able to avoid seeing polls like the one yesterday again. If you want to see things changed, get to work.
One ore thing. Even if there are no Progressives running on the Democratic side in 2008, I'll still be working my ass off in both the primaries and the general election. Every other loyal, self-respecting, far-sighted, and reformed Progressive Democrat will do the same.