New PAC Targets Disloyal Democrats

There is a new organization planning to target and reform disloyal Democratic members of Congress. Working For Us, a political action committee founded by veteran labor strategist Steve Rosenthal and backed by top unions, is following the confrontational approach of top liberal bloggers, promising primaries to depose disloyal incumbents. Rosenthal says the group is a "marriage of the grassroots and the netroots," uniting door-to-door organizers, unions and bloggers in an effort to "change the tenor of politics."

The strategy is set by two boards made up of traditional labor leaders like SEIU secretary-treasurer Anna Burger and pioneers from the Internet left like MoveOn.org heads and Markos Moulitsas, founder of the top Democratic blog Daily Kos. Moulitsas has spent years fanning grassroots opposition to Democratic incumbents once considered untouchable. He rallied national support for Ciro Rodriguez's 2006 primary challenge to Henry Cuellar, a Texas Congressman who supports estate tax repeal, free trade and George W. Bush, whom he endorsed in 2000. (Cuellar squeaked through the primary with 53 percent and went on to re-election.)

Moulitsas often hammers on three faults of conservative Democrats: economic conservatism, disloyalty to the party and desertion of their home districts' priorities. In a recent blog entry making the case against Tauscher, for example, he highlighted that she "consistently undermined the Democratic Party," led the charge for the Republican bankruptcy bill and "acts like she represents Utah while serving in a 59 percent Kerry district."

The district's presidential voting history may sound more like political trivia than cause for revolt, but it's actually a crucial prerequisite for netroots primary challenges. None of the incumbents targeted by the blogosphere in the last cycle hail from vulnerable districts or red states; they are all Democrats who are disloyal to the caucus and vote more conservatively than their constituents. Working For Us is adopting the same strategic standard to select its targets.

The group says it will challenge only those Democrats who are out of touch with constituents, not anti-labor incumbents in anti-labor areas. "How do you put some backbone into Democrats so they begin to act the right way?" asks Rosenthal. By confronting them with the reality that their constituents prefer strong economic populists over meek incumbents, he argues. Rosenthal says he will "stir the pot" in more than 15 districts next year, coordinating outreach, media and blog campaigns, and officially challenge two or three Democratic incumbents.

While the group says it is too early to finalize its targets, Moulitsas told me he wants to unseat Al Wynn, a Maryland Democrat who has backed Republican legislation on bankruptcy, oil drilling, flag burning, Terri Schiavo and the estate tax, along with Representatives Tauscher and Cuellar. Rosenthal argues that they do not have to win any races to be effective. "The primary is not the victory; the victory is getting Democrats to act like Democrats," he says.

So will it work? Can unions scale the netroots' past success?

For more check out this entire article at The Nation.

UPDATE REPLY TO READERS:
Commenter "Snakeback" asks "How about a PAC that pressures Nancy Pelosi and Hillary" into supporting impeachment? There actually is a PAC devoted to that goal -- it's called ImpeachPac and it raised over $75,000 last cycle for House candidates who support impeachment hearings. Former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman cited their work in her January 2006 cover story for The Nation, The Impeachment of George W. Bush. (I also cited their founder, Bob Fertik in this recent article about whether the netroots can push Congress to restore habeas corpus.)

In a thoughtful counterpoint, commenter "Boadicea" agrees with "most of the goals of MoveOn.org" but
thinks these pressure groups are "hypocritical" and counterproductive:

"...My own Democratic congressman, easily elected several years running, voted for the bankruptcy bill, but has never been targeted. Probably won't be. And Joe Lieberman, with a nearly perfect progressive voting record, was mercilessly attacked for his war position, which has only served to give him a more powerful position in the Dem caucus. Yet his closest ally in the "war senate," John Edwards, who co-sponsored the Iraq Resolution, championed the Patriot Act and, as a member of the intelligence sub-committee, convinced other [Democrats] to sign both bills, is not only given a pass but is hailed as the future of the Democratic Party by Moulitas et al. [...] Moulitas definitely DOES NOT speak for me with this bash and divide strategy. There are many Democrats who do not support the shrill divisionary tactics of Kos. They just don't post much on blogs - they're busy living their lives...