I fully support progressive primary candidates for elected office. The higher the office should be the better, but there seems to be a large jump between being able to get a progressive elected as a Representative and a Senator. Senate races attract a lot of money and influence from entities that typically don’t spend much if any time in the states whose races they help decide. There are a number of cases in the past four-plus years regarding progressive challenges for Senate offices that have failed across the nation. Two now stand out in my mind.
The first was the summer of 2006 in Connecticut. Sen. Lieberman (then a Democrat) had clearly (to progressives) turned his back on the Democratic Party by joining with the Bush Regime on any number of important issues and bills. Ned Lamont ran an extremely successful campaign against Sen. Lieberman – and actually won the primary. Lieberman turned into quite the spiteful hate-child and created his own political party out of thin air and ran against Lamont in the general as an “independent”. Unfortunately for Connecticut residents, and the country it turned out, Sen. Lieberman garnered more Republican votes than the Republican candidate and won the Senate seat by holding onto enough Democrats to edge out Ned Lamont. The Senate and the country has been forced to deal with Sen. Lieberman for another four years since.
More recently, Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln has worked overtime to work against and undermine President Obama’s centrist policies. At least until a viable primary opponent appeared, that is. Sen. Lincoln proposed a few decidedly progressive amendments to major legislation this year as Bill Halter’s numbers surged and he placed a close second last month. This month’s run-off contest ended up being pretty close – but Sen. Lincoln prevailed. The worst news is yet to come. Instead of a solidly progressive Senator from Arkansas, the Republican candidate will handily beat Sen. Lincoln in their general election. Why? Because Sen. Lincoln had pissed everybody off. She fought against centrist and progressive causes for the past six years – progressives aren’t likely to work to get her elected. She’s not a Republican, as much as she’s tried to look and act like one for the past six years – conservatives and the extremist tea-baggers aren’t going to vote for her. So Republicans are likely to pick up a southern seat as they maintain their do-nothing attitude is best for America stance.
Underlying both of these races is a common theme that I haven’t seen a lot of discussion about, even in the progressive blogosphere: Ned Lamont and Bill Halter ran strong campaigns and both nearly became Senators. The main problem was voters didn’t have enough time to get to know them. It’s expensive and time-consuming to run a Senate race. Instead of meeting people, Senate candidates spend hours every day begging for money from the large donors. I think at the end of the day, it’s important to keep identifying and supporting progressives for lower offices first. Lamont’s and Halter’s races were exciting to watch and it was gratifying in some sense to watch the political establishment grow nervous that people might actually decide elections instead of special interests. But voters want to know who they’re voting for – or against. Sometimes, records can be an anchor instead of an engine. But progressives have ideas and solutions, in direct contrast to the tea-baggers inane and ambiguous anger at everything … not them or theirs. The more progressives are elected at local and state levels, the more voters will see proof that those solutions are viable and necessary. After all, on every major issue we face, a majority of Americans hold progressive views. It goes unreported and undiscussed, but its true nonetheless. Success breeds success. I await the day when progressives move up the political ladder and help 21st century policies get passed. Lamont and Halter won’t do it in 2011, but someone some day soon will.