2010 a year of primaries

While it appears both parties are in the same dangerous boat, closer inspection shows otherwise.

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Conservatives are motivated by a level of ideological purism so strict, not even the amnesty-granting, tax-raising, Soviet-chatting Ronald Reagan would survived their purges. Solid conservatives like Newt Gingrich and Texas Sen. John Cornyn are persona non grata with conservative activists for arguing that the GOP must be inclusive to compete outside its rump regional base. And it’s very clear — electoral success is secondary to their concerns. Witness last week’s special election in the New York 23rd congressional district, where right-wing conservatives hijacked what should’ve been an easy hold for the Republican Party, and instead handed Democrats the district for the first time in 120 years. In a poll released Tuesday by Public Policy Polling, 59 percent of Maine Republicans said they would support a primary challenger to Sen. Olympia Snowe, even though any Republican to her right would be unelectable in this liberal state.

In contrast, grassroots progressives have been primarily motivated by electoral success — ousting Republicans was the first priority. To that end, the netroots and its allies sought out electable Democrats in some of the toughest political territory. For example, the two biggest netroots successes in 2006 — Montana’s Sen. Jon Tester and Virginia’s Sen. Jim Webb — are far from being liberal firebrands. We always knew that ideological purity is self-defeating, so we’ve focused on candidates who focus on their constituents, not corporate interests. Rather than a left-moderate-right equation, ours is one of populism. In the reverse, we would’ve embraced Republican Dede Scozzafava in NY-23, rather than give House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) an extra vote for the public option.

Looking to 2010, moderate Republicans in states like Connecticut and Illinois are being forced to run from the center to stave off conservative primary challenges. Illinois’s Mark Kirk has been begging Sarah Palin for an endorsement, even though the two biggest Republican victors last week — Virginia’s Bob McDonnell and New Jersey’s Chris Christie — kept their distance from the divisive Alaskan. (Palin’s meddling in NY-23, on the other hand, likely gave Democrats a boost.) In Florida, insurgent Marco Rubio will likely knock off popular Gov. Charlie Crist in a primary, complicating the GOP’s general-election efforts. Crist would be a surefire November victor, sparing Republicans millions to hold the Florida seat.

In several House races, right-wing conservatives are quitting the GOP for third-party runs, helping split conservative votes and gifting Democrats unexpected chances to pick up or hold difficult districts.

On the Democratic side, the only incumbents with anything to fear are those out-of-touch with their constituents. Sen. Blanche Lincoln represents a state, Arkansas, that has polled strongly for the public option, and her votes should reflect that reality. On the other hand, Daily Kos polled Nebraska and found that Sen. Ben Nelson wasn’t out of line with his constituents on healthcare. Therefore, even if he votes against final passage, he’s unlikely to inspire a primary challenger. Ideology takes a back seat to pragmatism.

It wasn’t long ago that progressives were in the deep minority, but we won back Congress and the White House by expanding our tent. It’s doubtful the conservatives’ novel “addition by subtraction” strategy will be as successful.


Moulitsas is founder and publisher of Daily Kos
(www.dailykos.com).