Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Obama no help to zombie Republicans or rightwing Senators

Well, the big primary day is over and the bloviating is gassing up the place. This, from the AP's Charles Babbington, is just short of ridiculous.

WASHINGTON – Voters rejected one of President Barack Obama's hand-picked candidates and forced another into a runoff, the latest sign that his political capital is slipping beneath a wave of anti-establishment anger.

Sen. Arlen Specter became the fourth Democrat in seven months to lose a high-profile race despite the president's active involvement, raising doubts about Obama's ability to help fellow Democrats in this November's elections.

The first three candidates fell to Republicans. But Specter's loss Tuesday to Rep. Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania's Democratic senatorial primary cast doubts on Obama's influence and popularity even within his own party — and in a battleground state, no less.

Of course, it's possible that Democrats will fare better than expected this fall. And there's only so much that any president can do to help other candidates, especially in a non-presidential election year.

Still, Obama's poor record thus far could hurt his legislative agenda if Democratic lawmakers decide they need some distance from him as they seek re-election in what is shaping up as a pro-Republican year. Conversely, it might embolden Republican lawmakers and candidates who oppose him.

Embolden them? What have they done for two years but oppose his agenda. Nevertheless, his agenda -- one shared with Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and the majority of Dems in Congress, seems to have done pretty well thus far, with historic healthcare legislation and financial regulatory legislation that could pass this month.

But more to the point, sure, Specter was Obama's "hand-picked candidate," though I'd argue that Specter picked himself and forced Obama to support him in exchange for his vote on health care. What, though, has Obama lost when an 80-year old life-long Republican loses a Democratic primary to a Democrat who has a better chance of winning in the fall?

Oh, and Obama's other FAIL?

Creating another bruise for Obama and the Democratic establishment Tuesday, Sen. Blanche Lincoln was forced into a runoff in Arkansas' Democratic senatorial primary. Obama supports her bid for a third term, but he is not as closely associated with her campaign as he was with Specter's.

Hate to point this out, but Blanche opposed the president's (and the party's) most important legislative agenda. Seeing her lose to a more progressive candidate can't sting too much for David Axelrod, I'm thinking. The fact that she's now facing a run-off is sweeter still since she won't be able to back off on derivatives reform. And, by the way, how much could Obama help in a state that went for McCain in 2008?

Sure, Obama "backed" Specter and Lincoln. The truth is, I can't think of a single instance of a sitting president not "backing" the incumbent in his party when that incumbent faced a primary challenge. You don't slap legislators whose votes you need, primary or not.

This to me, is the deeper analysis then discussions of "coattails."

But then, across Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Arkansas, Democratic turnout clearly exceeded that of the GOP despite the much-noted zeal of the Tea Partiers. In Kentucky, Conway won with just 44 percent of the Democratic Senate primary vote, but he still managed to pull down 20,000 more votes than Tea Party favorite Rand Paul, who won the GOP Senate primary with 59 percent of the vote and the lion's share of the press coverage for the past three months.

Unions come out of Tuesday's elections with bragging rights not just in Pennsylvania's 12th but also in Arkansas, a state whose work force is almost entirely non-union. Infuriated by Lincoln's opposition to its top legislative priority, the Employee Free Choice Act, several unions, including the Communications Workers and the Steelworkers, decided to show Lincoln's fellow senatorial waverers that there would be a price to pay for opposing the linchpin of labor's legislative agenda.

The AFL-CIO geared up its Working America program, which uses a door-to-door canvass in working-class neighborhoods to enroll voters in the federation's political campaigns. By Tuesday, Working America organizers had canvassed 27 Arkansas towns, knocked on 82,000 doors, and made over 200,000 phone calls to voters. Meanwhile, it, along with non-AFL-CIO member unions such as the Service Employees, spent millions of dollars on anti-Lincoln ads. At 1 a.m. Wednesday, with 94 percent of precincts reporting, Lincoln was pulling down just 45 percent of the vote to Halter's 43 percent, forcing them into a June runoff, and demonstrating labor's capacity to punish anti-labor Democrats in virtually any political terrain.



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