I've often wondered why some politicians feel so compelled to play the game within the standard two party system?
One thing I believe will be accelerating for the near future is the disintermediation of political direction from centralized authority to individuals and candidates. This is a product both of technology, and the decline of traditional media and traditional party "leadership" to impose discipline. As we've seen, some in the DC GOP establishment seem quite offended that party members reach their own conclusions.
The wired world is a world where party members are far more likely to figure out "the score" on an officeholder, and it will be far more difficult to "talk the talk" in one's home state when one hasn't "walked the walk" in DC.
The first victim of this phenomena was CT Senator Joe Lieberman in 2006. No matter how often he had supported Democrats on other issues; the rank and file CT Democratic party saw his support for the Iraq War as a dealbreaker and he lost his primary.
Lieberman is still in the Senate because he took the advice of his mentor John Droney and ran a 3rd party race; correctly perceiving that in such a "blue state" the Republicans would not seriously contest the general election. But given that Lieberman won by 10 points, it's not clear to me even a full bore Republican effort would have been successful, and the greater risk was throwing the election to squishy Ned Lamont.
Joe Lieberman is not the first or last politician whose views, while palatable to voters in general, have moved where their party will not travel. Oddly, the Lieberman lesson was lost on two other Senators in risk of losing Democratic primaries---Arlen Specter and Kirsten Gillibrand.
Arlen Specter thrived for decades under the rubric of being "socially liberal, fiscally conservative". or, at least moderate. The stimulus vote ripped this meme to shreds and left him easy pickens to any credible Republican who filed for a primary, in this case,Pat Toomey saw his opportunity and took it.
Arlen Specter thought he had greener pastures as a Democrat, but now he had decades of votes in favor of Republican bills and nominees to defend. Not the least being the AUMF vote on Iraq. So unless the Democrats muscled all the serious challengers out of the way, Specter was facing serious trouble.
Delaware County Congressman Joe Sestak wasn't dissuaded (hard to browbeat those career military men) and the primary between him and Specter is already on the ugly side.
I think Specter is going to lose this primary. His prior support for George W. Bush is going to be toxic. A disproportionate number of Democratic primary voters are in metro Pittsburgh, where Specter ran weakly in both the 2004 primary and general. Sestak is an unknown there now; that won't last. Maybe the huge black vote in Philadelphia turns out for Specter in a '10 primary;he garned little of it against a weak general election opponent in '04. And Specter's support among moderates in the SEPA suburbs and the "T" is likely to erode if he tries a slash and burn against Sestak; who is a Philly suburbanite and not some raving lefty.
The only way for Specter to win a Democratic primary is to tack his policies far to the left. So if he wins, then he hands Pat Toomey the issue of whether Pennsylvania is well served by a political chameleon. Not that a Republican is a sure thing in 2010 PA, but against a self-serving DC insider, well, it starts looking a lot better. And Toomey will be the "nice guy" in the race having avoided the intermural blood match.
What if Arlen had run independent? I think he had enough residual strength among voters who don't vote in either primary to win, plus suburban/small city PA is a bigger chunk of that electorate.than the urban dominated Democrats or the rural dominated GOP. Plus, the fear of letting a vocal conservative like Toomey in the Senate would have put a damper on Democratic funding and recruitment. Could Specter have navigated the path of being an "Obama Republican"? Not sure he'd be worse off now for having tried; and he could grab the mantle of being too concerned about policy to worry about party politics.
So, we find a party switch didn't work out so well for a Republican who was too liberal. So how is staying in her party working for a somewhat conservative Democrat? Not so well.
Kirsten Gillibrand's misfortune was to be appointed to the Senate as an upstate ticket balancer to liberal Harlem Democrat Governor David Paterson.Paterson's standing has crashed and dragged Gillibrand with it.
Gillibrand was a pro-Second Amendment; anti-bailout; border security Blue Dog. At least she was when representing a Republican leaning upstate district. Since joining the Upper Chamber she's been reeducated to modify her views to appease liberal downstate Democrats.
And she shouldn't have bothered. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, a liberal from Manhattan's "silk Stocking" district, has all but announced her primary bid and tied with her in the polls. And don't think anyone who has the Citicorp HQ in her district won't be able to raise cash at will.
Gillibrand's strength and weakness is she is viewed as "the upstate senator". Upstate NY thinks--correctly--it is the forgotten child in NY State politics. But it cast about 45% of the vote in an off-year general election. An upstate Democrat is well positioned to win a two way statewide race given the inevitable Democratic pluralities out of the City.
But an upstate candidate is poorly positioned to win a contested nomination. Over 50% of Democratic primary votes are cast in the City, and another 20% in the suburbs. There are very few parts of the City (the 9th CD; the 13th CD; some legislative districts in Queens) where a Democrat of Gillibrand's background is going to be well received. As long as Maloney can frame this race as the NYC liberal against the less reliable girl from Albany, she is going to win this primary...since Gillibrand will need a virtually unanimous vote upstate to offset NYC. And , barring sudden interest by a serious Republican--Maloney wins the general election.
Let's assume the Republicans run someone akin to a John Spencer or a Howard Mills. And let's assume Gillibrand did a Lieberman. I doubt the Republican could garner 20% of the statewide vote under this scenario; since I think Gillibrand pulls from their regional upstate base.
Now let's assume Upstate Democrats stuck with Gillibrand. Under these circumstances she'd just need to cobble together enough soft Republicans and independents in the suburbs and outer boroughs to win. (Hmm, Bloomberg and Giuliani endorsements?) . I think there's an easier path for her to get 42% in a general election than 50% in a Democratic primary. Especially since there already is a centrist 3rd Party (the Independence Party) which is guaranteed a ballot spot for the '10 NYS general election.
I think that centrists of both parties are going to have to come to grips with the reality that if they want to stay in office, they will have to do it themselves. It's better to stay in office with the "cup of Joe" then to be tossed out trying to be the partisan your record proves you are not.
Perhaps MA State Treasurer Tim Cahill, planning a independent candidacy against embattled Obama clone Gov. Deval Patrick, is the start of a trend?
We've been told that Republicans don't make moderates feel very welcome. How welcome are the Democrats under Obama, Reid and Pelosi?...especially if you are a moderate from a blue state?