If You Want a Friend in Washington--or Chicago--Get a Dog

Should we care what just happened to Christine Cegelis?

She's strongly pro-choice. She opposed Bush's Iraq War before it started. She ran on health care for everyone. She was against unfair trade deals like CAFTA. With only days left in the campaign, she announced that she would have voted against the Patriot Act renewal. She built up her grassroots strength, a tough job in historically (hysterically) pro-Republican DuPage County.

And in 2004, without any help or money from the Big Boys, she took on Henry Hyde--you remember Mr. Hyde, right? the one who has his name on various anti-choice laws? the hypocrite who helped lead the impeachment fight against Bill Clinton despite his own "youthful indiscretion"?--and won 44%.

Knowing that it often takes at least two tries before an incumbent can be defeated, she announced immediately that she would keep on running. And at least in part because he knew he would not have an easy ride in 2006, the elderly Hyde decided after three decades in the House that he had had enough. His retirement created an open seat, and a former Tom DeLay aide stepped right up to fill the GOP slot.

So what was Christine Cegelis' reward for all her useful and principled work?

An all-out search by the Big Boys in the D.C. Democratic Party and in the Chicago Machine apparatus for an opponent. Abandonment by many of her allies. And despite having been a "netroots" favorite in 2004, a lot of "indecision" in the blogosphere.

What was the rap on Cegelis? She couldn't raise enough money.

So instead of helping her raise the money, the party went all out to find and finance a primary opponent. After several failed attempts, the Big Boys found one, though she lives in the next district over. Then they raised that opponent a whole bunch of money. Oh, well.

Despite Cegelis' role in helping Hyde-the-impeachment-man decide to give up, Hillary Clinton did a quarter-million-dollar fundraiser for Cegelis' opponent. John Kerry, who had so much trouble deciding whether he was for or against the Iraq War, was so sure he knew what was best for IL-6 that he did 2 mass email fundraising solicitations for her opponent, raising a couple hundred thousand. Obama did TV ads. Rahm conducted the orchestra. 11 very attractive mailings were sent out to regular primary voters. A couple Daleys chipped in a few dollars more. I could go on, and on, because essentially the entire Democratic Establishment--and even quite a few progressive groups that should have known better--helped stomp on Cegelis.

The Big Boys raised and spent close to a million bucks to intervene in a primary against a principled progressive woman. With all that, they only managed to eke out a win by a whopping 1,100 votes last Tuesday.

Which means that with $50K more, so that she could have run some last-minute radio ads, Cegelis could have won.

Which means the Big Boys could have then given her half of that million, to run against the Tom DeLay aide this fall. And since her successful opponent doesn't even live in the district, they could have given her opponent the other half-a-million they raised to run in any of 3 GOP-held Congressional Districts in that same immediate area, one of which (IL-10) was carried by both Gore & Kerry, and another of which is held by Denny Hastert, the #3 man in the impeachment succession and the front man for the Republican mob; or in 2 more districts which are only one CD over from her house. In all 5 of these districts Bush was held at 55% or below in both 2000 and 2004, the same ballpark as in IL-6 (where Bush took 53% both years).

In other words, we could be running Cegelis in IL-6--with adequate funding--and her doesn't-live-in-the-district opponent could run in any nearby district--also with adequate funding.

Wouldn't that be better for the whole "team" trying to take back the House?

Let me end on a positive note--a principled, independent woman took on one of the biggest hypocrites in the GOP, and ran hard enough to help him decide to retire; then, despite being massively out-endorsed, out-machined, and outspent, she built up enough grassroots support to almost pull off the election day upset. Had many of those who should have supported her done so, instead of taking a walk, or worse, she could have won (conflict-of-interest note right here--I played a role as an advisor to the Cegelis campaign during the last 15 days). I don't say that for recriminations purposes; I say it so we don't make the same mistake the next time. Cegelis coming so close, even without very much outside help, is a hopeful sign!

And here's the honor roll of some of those who did the right thing in IL-6: all the local grassroots volunteers; the Progressive Democrats of America (PDA), whose Deputy Director, Kevin Spidel, took leave to become the Cegelis campaign manager for the last month; the local DFA; NOW; the Machinists; and Marcy Kaptur, the lone House member who campaigned for Cegelis in 2006.
If some more progressive groups will join them, we can win the next election like this one--which, imho, is Marcy Winograd's antiwar, anti-spying, pro-Wellstone -wing-of-the-Democratic-Party challenge to Blue Dog Jane Harman out in California (June primary).

Marcy's web site leads off with this line: "I will vote to end the war in Iraq and to bring our troops home. Harman will not." Q.E.D.