House races

House Dem: Liberal groups need to back off for party to succeed this cycle

Liberal groups need to stay out of Democratic primaries if the party is
going to retake the House majority, according to a conservative
Massachusetts Democrat.

Rep. Stephen Lynch was one of several Democrats who faced an
aggressive primary challenge from the left in 2010. His challenger Mac
D’Alessandro, a former top official with the Service Employees
International Union (SEIU), received almost $300,000 from labor groups
for his campaign.

{mosads}“There was a lot of money spent against Democrats by Democrats,”
Lynch told The Ballot Box. “That contributed to the scale of our
losses.”

Lynch survived his primary and was reelected in
November, but several House Democrats who were targets of the left lost
their reelection bids. For instance, the SEIU encouraged its members in
Ohio’s 18th district to “skip-a-Space” on their ballots and not vote for
Rep. Zack Space because of his opposition to healthcare reform. The
two-term Democrat was subsequently defeated by Republican Bob Gibbs.

Liberal groups also targeted Alabama Democrat Bobby Bright because
of his opposition to the healthcare reform bill. The group Blue America
PAC spent almost $50,000 against Bright in the general election,
according to records compiled by the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit
watchdog group.

And in New Hampshire, liberal groups helped Ann McLane Kuster defeat
establishment-favorite Katrina Swett in a bruising 2nd district
Democratic primary. Kuster went on to lose to Republican Charlie Bass in
a tight vote.

“I think if we had avoided that, we would have saved, maybe, six or
eight more seats,” said Lynch. “I don’t think it would have stopped the
overall result, but maybe six or eight seats” could have been held.

Clearing primaries for members and discouraging liberal groups from
spending against incumbents should be a priority for the Democratic
Congressional Campaign Committee, he said. “It would definitely help, I
think. You need to talk to those groups.”

Kuster’s camp, meanwhile, argued the primary produced a stronger candidate and noted that despite the environment, her performance was better than Swett had done in her previous run.

“Kuster lost to Bass by 1 percent in 2010; Swett had lost to Bass by 16 percent when she faced him back in 2002,” said Colin Van Ostern, Kuster’s former campaign manager. “So it is hard to draw any conclusion except that the primary caused Democrats to put up the strongest possible candidate.”

DCCC Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) brushed aside concerns about contested primaries limiting his party’s chances.

“I
have not had to worry about that yet,” Israel said. “I haven’t had to
even contemplate urging people not to run. The net is wide open. And
then we’ll make decisions as we go forward.”

Liberal activists dismissed the suggestion that primary challenges added to the Democrats’ losses in 2010.

“I don’t think that they really had any impact,” said Jane Hamsher, the founder of the liberal website Firedoglake.

Whether there will be an aggressive approach to challenging
Democratic incumbents in the 2012 primaries remains to be seen, she
added. “It totally depends on what the climate looks like for 2012. It’s
hard to say at this point.”

–Updated at 8:04 p.m.

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