Anti-war forces, angered over Congressional failure to bring an end to the Iraq war, are gearing up to run primary challenges against Democratic incumbents who support the Bush administration.
Frustration with the Democratic leadership of the House and Senate reached new heights with the appearance of stories describing Democrats' growing willingness to compromise on Iraq legislation, including "Democrats Retreat On War End" in The Politico and "Democrats Newly Willing to Compromise on Iraq" in the New York Times.
MoveOn, which spent a total of $28.1 million in the 2005-6 election cycle, sent out a survey to its 3.3 million members noting:
"Hundreds of thousands of us worked to get Democratic majorities elected. So why don't they have the votes? One reason is that there are a set of weak Democrats who side with the president--especially on Iraq. They're too scared to fight for what's right and what they were elected to fight for.
"This fall, we face a pivotal series of votes on Iraq--votes that, if we win, could spell the end of the Iraq war. MoveOn members have made phone calls. We've held town meetings. We've run ads and written letters to the editor. But now, given this big moment, we have an important decision to make together."
The email, signed by "Nita, Eli, Justin, Jennifer and the MoveOn.org Political Action Team," posed the following question:
"Should we support primary challengers against some Democrats?.... It's a tough question, and one we need everybody's input on." Members were given a link where they were asked not only whether they would support Democratic primary challengers, but whether they would be willing to give money to such a campaign, and how much
A House Democratic leadership aide told the Huffington Post, "We understand their frustration, but we need to elect more Democrats in order to affect real change on Iraq." Another top Democratic leadership aide said, "What in the world are they thinking? All this is going to do is increase the possibility of electing more Republicans. Instead of going after Democrats, they should be focusing their efforts on pressuring Republicans to break with the president.
In private, many in the House and Senate leadership contend that if more liberal candidates defeat incumbent conservative and centrist Democrats in primaries, many of them representing Southern and Midwestern constituencies, the chances of a Republican victory in the general election sharply increase.
The MoveOn survey comes on the heels of the anti-"Bush Dog" campaign on the Open Left website created by Chris Bowers, Matt Stoller and Mike Lux. The "Bush Dogs" -- a play on the "Blue Dog" Democrats, a caucus of center-conservative Democrats -- is made up of the 39 House Democrats who voted on May 24 in favor of the Iraq emergency supplemental appropriation and on August 4 in favor of the "Protect America Act" expanding the administration's power to use warrantless wiretaps. Stoller described the Bush Dogs as "Southern white dudes." He argued that "these members are not voting their districts, they are just conservatives....Bush Dog Democrats are dragging down the rest of the party. According to Zogby, 80% of Democrats disapprove of the job that Congress is doing."
Bowers suggested that Bush Dog Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) is an ideal candidate to target in a primary challenge.
Lipinski's district is overwhelmingly Democratic, with 59 percent support for John Kerry, "in absolutely no danger of falling into Republican hands;" Lipinski is "staunchly anti-choice;" and "he also is below average for a Democrat on immigration, gets a big fat zero from Progressive Punch on GLBT issues, and only a 50 percent score from the Drum Major Institute on progressive family issues. Basically, he sucks at just about everything."
An anti-war challenger strategy poses both risks and rewards.
Many members of Congress, including some adamantly opposed to the war, argue that primary challenges improve prospects for Republicans in the general election, and threaten defections from swing voters worried that liberal interest groups have excessive influence in the Democratic Party.
Conversely, proponents argue it could boost the energy and commitment of activists who helped produce the 2006 election successes; pressure Democratic incumbents to cast anti-war votes; and, in the long run, prove that a Democratic-led Congress can take on a Republican administration.