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Bye-bye, Blanche

Despite contested primaries in Pennsylvania and Colorado, progressives have lacked the sort of high-profile blockbuster faceoff that could energize them in today’s disappointing political climate. Democratic supermajorities in Congress have failed to deliver on campaign promises, and all the real grassroots energy has bubbled up from conservatives.

That changed Monday, when progressives got their big statement-making primary: Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter will challenge nominal Democrat Sen. Blanche Lincoln.

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This race couldn’t come at a better time for dejected progressives. Activists turned themselves inside out delivering those supermajorities the past two election cycles, and have been rewarded with congressional incompetence. That malaise has filtered down to the party’s rank and file. A Daily Kos poll conducted last week by Research 2000 found that 76 percent of Republicans said they were “definitely” or “likely” voting, compared to just 55 percent for Democrats. If that “intensity gap” remains in November, control of Congress will be genuinely in play.

Establishment Democrats don’t seem interested in closing this gap. Democratic obstructionists like Nebraska’s Ben Nelson, Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu, Montana’s Max Baucus and Arkansas’s Lincoln have been coddled by the White House. Critics are blasted as ideologues, idiots or worse — Barack Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel referred to them as “f--king retards.” 

Congress appears deaf to the real concerns of Americans, legislatively oblivious to the desperate need for healthcare reform and job creation. No group appears more terrified of pushing a principled agenda than timid Beltway Democrats, who stubbornly reject a popular public health insurance option that would compete with private insurers, even as they lard up reform efforts with unpopular measures like the infamous “Cornhusker kickback.”

Problem is, a majority of elected officials in Congress are bought and paid for by corporate interests. And in a system that allows a 41-seat minority to hold the majority hostage, it doesn’t take much to purchase an obstructionist Democratic coterie. So while voters pushed Republicans into an irrelevant minority, corporate interests quickly compensated by buying a few Democrats — their investments in Baucus, Nelson, Landrieu and Lincoln (among others) paid off handsomely, ensuring the bulk of the Democratic agenda ended up dead or on the cutting-room floor.

But democracy isn’t dead, not even in the post-Citizens United era, and Lincoln has the misfortune of being the only Democrat among the worst offenders facing reelection this year. Progressive groups responded immediately to Halter’s primary announcement. The netroots — MoveOn.org, bloggers (including Daily Kos), the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Democracy for America — kicked in over $600,000 in the first 12 hours, well on the way to raising $1 million in the first week. The AFL-CIO quickly committed $3 million. More unions and progressive groups were expected to jump into the fray. 

 Lincoln’s initial reaction to Halter’s entrance was emblematic of the cluelessness that has landed her in electoral hot water: “This Senate seat belongs to Arkansas, not to outside groups that are angry — I don’t answer to them.”

Actually, it’s Arkansas voters who are angry. Surveys by four different pollsters show Lincoln getting barely a third of the vote against Republican foes. A PPP poll pegged her favorability at 27 percent approve, 62 percent disapprove — downright toxic. Her grandstanding efforts to stymie the Democratic agenda have alienated Democrats, disgusted independents and failed to impress Republicans. She is toast in November.

Except she won’t last that long. And ironically, this progressive uprising just happens to be the best chance Democrats have of holding the seat.

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


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