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What a difference a primary challenge makes

Michael Bennett is a moderate Democratic senator from Colorado. Kirsten Gillibrand was a moderate Democrat in the House until she was appointed to fill Hillary Clinton's Senate seat. Neither is the sort of politician you'd expect to be out front on a major liberal priority. But there they are, signatories to a letter asking Harry Reid to bring a public option up for a vote through the reconciliation process. They're joined by Oregon's Jeff Merkley and Ohio's Sherrod Broewn, both of whom are more natural fits for this process.

As a substantive matter, I don't think the public option is likely to make a comeback this late in the game. Things are too fragile to reopen that controversy, and most Democrats, for better or worse, want to show they're willing to make concessions to bring Republicans aboard. Resuscitating the public option is going in the opposite direction.

This is, however, a reminder that reconciliation could be used to bring the public option up for a vote in the future. It's also a reminder of the power of primary challenges. Both Bennett and Gillibrand are facing challengers from the left, and so they're signing their names to liberal priorities you might otherwise expect them to avoid.

By Ezra Klein  |  February 16, 2010; 3:18 PM ET
 
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Comments

I hereby announce that I will run in the Virginia Democratic primaries against Sens Webb and Warner in 2012 and 2014, respectively.

Posted by: imherefortheezra | February 16, 2010 3:21 PM | Report abuse

Kirsten Gillibrand is and has always has been a radical George Soros funded progressive!!!

Harold Ford Jr. is considering running to Gilibrand's right, since there is so much room there!!!

Posted by: FastEddieO007 | February 16, 2010 3:21 PM | Report abuse

Kirsten Gillibrand is a whacko lefty....she is one of those unintelligent knee-jerk lefties who cannot talk about the substance of any issue. She simply smiles and says can't we be even more lefties. Unfortunately that kind of talk wins a 50% majority in NY.

Posted by: FastEddieO007 | February 16, 2010 3:23 PM | Report abuse

People against gun control are wacko lefties now? That's odd

On that note, Ezra, you should do a piece about Virginia trying to put as many guns in the hands of as many homicidal maniacs as possible (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/15/AR2010021503292.html)

Posted by: imherefortheezra | February 16, 2010 3:31 PM | Report abuse

Just because a whacko lefty knows how to take a politically expedient position on gun control doesn't make her any less of a lefty. It just means George Soros political machine knows what its doing.

Posted by: FastEddieO007 | February 16, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Democrats, for better or worse, want to show they're willing to make concessions to bring Republicans aboard. Resuscitating the public option is going in the opposite direction.

True Ezra, but once the repiglicans show themselves to be obstructionist hacks who have no plan for governing, there is no downside to bringing the PO back for a vote through reconciliation. I want to see how many congresscritters vote against the single most popular idea to come out of HCR, short of single payer....

Posted by: srw3 | February 16, 2010 3:39 PM | Report abuse

Gillibrand's leftward shift is a result of being raised to a statewide position from a relatively conservative upstate district, not as a response to a potential Ford primary challenge.

Ford's running pretty hard to Gillibrand's right (he'd probably be more comfortable in the NY Republican party, honestly), but he's a creature of the downstate Democratic money machine, and his run is more a product of Gillibrand's isolation from the downstate power base than about ideology.

Posted by: mrlooney | February 16, 2010 3:48 PM | Report abuse

Does Gillibrand have a serious challenger from the left? This New York resident hasn't heard -- I thought Schumer had cleared the field for her.

Posted by: scarlota | February 16, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

srw3,

do you really think Majority Leader McConnell is going to bring up the PO for a vote next year?

(got to admit it made me squirm typing that).

Posted by: visionbrkr | February 16, 2010 3:52 PM | Report abuse

and Pataki would beat Gillibrand right now when/if he runs.

Posted by: visionbrkr | February 16, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

agree- Ford isn't a lefty by anny means... he's a threat from the financial industry.

Posted by: Quant | February 16, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Methinks visionbrkr overestimates our former governor's appeal to New Yorkers. Pataki is not as widely loathed as Giuliani, but he's not too far off, either.

The New York GOP is still in shambles -- they're running Rick Lazio as governor, after all!

Posted by: scarlota | February 16, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse

scarlota,

methink you'll want to check out the below:

http://www.pollster.com/polls/ny/10-ny-sen-b-ge-pvg.php


add that in with the anti incumbent sentiment listed here:

http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2010/02/16/cnn-poll-anti-incumbent-fever-at-record-high/?fbid=M9HwqF3KGfA&hpt=Sbin

and that could spell a Republican senator in NY. Wouldn't that be grand!!

Posted by: visionbrkr | February 16, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

The next Senators from New York will be Democrats Schumer and Gillibrand. And say hello to Governor Cuomo!

At least it will be amusing to watch Rick Lazio make a fool out of himself for the 1,000,000th time.

Posted by: scarlota | February 16, 2010 4:09 PM | Report abuse

visionbrkr "do you really think Majority Leader McConnell is going to bring up the PO for a vote next year?"

No, Majority leader Reid will bring it up this year, since he has nothing to lose (except his Senate seat and that is gone in any case) and just getting to the floor under reconciliation, along with passing the sidecar fixes to the senate bill, would hopefully prevent the dystopian vision you suggest in your post.

Posted by: srw3 | February 16, 2010 4:17 PM | Report abuse

More than that, it's a reminder that the progressive movement needs to stop thinking of itself as just a part of the Democratic Party. We can't trust these people to represent us -- you have to get out there and scare them before they actually do the things we're electing them to do. That's particularly true for inappropriately-conservative blue/purple state candidates. Our situation today might be remarkably different if Evan Bayh had been forced to spend much of last year fighting a strong contender on his left flank.

Posted by: NS12345 | February 16, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

As a New Yorker, I don't know anyone who takes Harold Ford seriously. On the other hand, as someone who was formerly skeptically of Gillibrand herself, I *have* been impressed with her recent leftward shift (both on the public option, and also and more importantly being vocal against DADT) and am considerably more likely than I was before to get out and vote for her in the primary, and donate/volunteer for her campaign. Well, let's be honest, if her primary challenger was Harold Ford, I would have gotten out and voted for her in the primary anyway, because he's such a joke. (Seriously, what does he actually stand for and hasn't flipped on, other than his support for the financial industry?)

Bennet, on the other hand - he's certainly gotten a reputation as a moderate Dem, and probably his votes put him there so far (though I haven't analyzed them myself). But he did go to Wesleyan University, that hotbed of liberal activism, so I suspect his true leanings are unlikely to be too conservative.

Posted by: madjoy | February 16, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

That Pataki poll is very illuminating. As an incumbent, Gillibrand's under 45% is a very enlightening indicator of how this race will be.

Maybe George Soros can get Dede Scozzafukghk
to run as a third party to split up the opposition to her so that 43% becomes enough....?

Posted by: FastEddieO007 | February 16, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse

NS12345,

I'm really curious (as a non-liberal) how exactly does seperating yourself (progressives) into a smaller grouping get you anywhere? Do you think if they formed a seperate party (ie, the Progressive party) that you'd get anywhere near a majority across the US to effect any change you want?


srw3,

even as an anti-Democrat (not pro-Republican) I cringed when i typed that. I don't know much worse than him as the Majority leader (although the current one runs a close second I'd think)

Posted by: visionbrkr | February 16, 2010 4:36 PM | Report abuse

madjoy, Bennett has been lackluster in my view as one of his constituents. As Ezra suggests, he did start staking out more progressive positions, particularly on EFCA and HCR (public option) AFTER Andrew Romonoff decided to primary him. Primaries are good, as long as they don't turn too negative. I hope that Bennett and Romonoff follow the 11th commandment and speak no ill of a fellow Democrat.

Posted by: srw3 | February 16, 2010 4:39 PM | Report abuse

visionbrkr, as a dedicated progressive (not necessarily a democrat) I cringe when I find myself saying anything in support of Reid, after his horrible handling of HCR and his inability to get anything else done. His pants must have holes in both legs because he spends so much time on his knees. A few legislative victories will do wonders for the perception of the dem senate and some dem senators, but I still think that Reid is a goner in NV.

Posted by: srw3 | February 16, 2010 4:45 PM | Report abuse

Madjoy's right: Gillibrand *has* improved her standing with the base. Back when she was a rep, she was known for her tin ear and sharp elbows -- her colleagues in the caucus called her "Tracy Flick" -- but under Schumer's tutelage she's grown into a politician that could potentially appeal to both moderates and progressives. Certainly everyone I know in the People's Republic of Brooklyn is giving her a second look, thanks to Ford's buffoonery.

By contrast Pataki feels like the staid, colorless past. She'd kill him with women, for starters. And one should never underestimate the Schumer GOTV machine.

Posted by: scarlota | February 16, 2010 4:54 PM | Report abuse

Ford is from the left???

I thought he was from Neptune.

Posted by: pj_camp | February 16, 2010 7:57 PM | Report abuse

""even as an anti-Democrat (not pro-Republican)""

People who claim to be "anti-Democrat" always make me laugh. Because inthe name of being an "anti-Democrat", they're willing to mindlessly support Bush, support the Iraq war, cheer on the use of torture, and get into frothing, seething rage at the mentipon of Al Gore and John Kerry. In the end, they end up trying to say, "well, I'm just antiu-Democrat, not pro-Republican," but end up engagin in pretty ridiculous moral self-immolation in the process. If you're so anti-Democrat, why do you support such a bunch of destructive, incompetent hateful fools as the Republicans?

Part of the reason, of course, is that you hate the Democrats for, like Clinton, having successful presidencies, and you've never been able to get over the fact that his presidency proved that Democrats, not Republicans, should be in charge of the country. And this angered you so much that you became a pro-Bush fanatic out of spite, espousing economic destructive philosophies that got us into the predicament we're in now.

Posted by: tyromania | February 16, 2010 10:19 PM | Report abuse

tyromania,

its amazing to me how in your feeble mind people can only be 100% pro Bush Republicans or 100% pro Obama/Clinton Democrats. There's no middle ground, huh?

As I've said before (as if it matters) I was against the war from the start and i'm pro-choice.

As far as business goes though I am against a huge central government (and that government is growing substantially in the Obama administration) that gives no benefit to the private sector but only adds costs and regulatory hurdles. Sure regulations are important to avoid the problems of the housing crisis but important mistakes had been made that caused the housing bubble all the way back to at least the mid 80's (Reagan and the tax reform act of 86) and inclusive of Clinton (housing prices started to spike up around '97 due in good part to the Taxpayer Relief Act of 97 which Clinton signed.) If you don't make it so easy for people to abuse the housing system then the bubble doesn't happen (IMO). Credit was too easily available as rates were too low. People also shouldn't be able to mortgage 100+% of their homes but many were and responsible homeowners are now footing the bill for their irresponsible neighbors and that's not right.

See there's plenty of blame to go around and George Bush gets a large share of it from me but when it comes down to it, I just can't see myself in favor of a party that acts towards business the way the Democrats do.

Oh i've also said on here I'd vote right now for Obama over McCain.

Posted by: visionbrkr | February 17, 2010 12:06 AM | Report abuse

Hard to believe there is any movement to be "bipartisan" after all the bs played by the Republicans, but Obama may want to play "nice, nice" with the Waterloo Party. Obama is fun to watch as he is never predictable, except for sucking up to the Republicans.

Otherwise, reconciliation would just be finding news ways of sticking it to the American taxpayers. more and ingenious new ways to have American taxpayer get screwed by Corporatists.

Let's find some new ways to "run over" everyone. to watch the new lows is always astounding to see. Where do they get this script from?

Posted by: BernardEckholdt | February 17, 2010 7:06 PM | Report abuse

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