2008 Primary Challenges Decision Process

Matt Stoller at MyDD is thinking intermediate term on how to force a fight within the Democratic Party on what it means to be called a Democrat, especially one from safe blue seats. He was riffing on Chuck Shumer, and ripping into him pretty effectively, but at the end drops this tidbit:

Assuming that progressives care about taking power or even being relevant, it’s soon going to be time to make lists of candidates who deserve primary challenges in 2008.

I would like to take power and be relevant at the same time, and I know that this is going to be a long term project. Right now it is looking like the Democratic Party wants to nominate Hillary Clinton and she will be running on a more of the same, but more competently done platform with only one or two possible exceptions. An alternative viewpoint beyond the incompetence critique still has not been able to elbow itself into the conversation as a systemic rejection of Bush. If there is not a systemic rejection of Bush and his embrace of a unitary executive, anti-urban, divide and conquer, slash and burn policies, but instead just a rejection of his personal failings as an incompetent manager, than we’ll face the same systemic problems in 2012 or 2016. The cram down decades will expand.
The first step to changing the course of this nation is to change the nature of the Democratic Party. Building the bench, and reinvogorating the local activists who can win the muncipal elections, county judgeships, water board seats, school committee setas etc, is one of the first steps. Rebuilding the infrastructure of the national party is another initial step that needs to happen. Building a groundswell of support that can get behind a good candidate in a “no shot in hell” district is a flexing of still developping muscle. Being a the marginal pusher in an electoral winner in cases such as Herseth and Chandler are another, more advanced stage of the internal series of fights that need to occur. Pushing significant, well funded, well run challengers against incumbants and forcing them to debate the terms of being a Democrat is the next significant step. We are starting to see these fights this year with the loss of Ciro Rodirigues in TX-28, and the great deal of support to Ned Lamont in the CT-Senate race [DISCLOSURE: I have done a tiny bit of policy writing work for the Lamont Campaign], but these opportunities have been nearly spur of the moment, extemporaneous affairs that have acquired their own momentum.
Immediately after the TX-28 loss, Chris Bowers noted reality:

As for tactics, it seems to me that we should have moved into this race earlier–probably as early as November. There was a large gap to overcome in this district, and six weeks proved to not be enough time. We even won the voting on Election Day voting, but we lost because of the early voting. Had we spent more time on this campaign, we could have made it closer earlier, and we could have kicked up a lot more media. As Matt Singer noted over email:
“Campaigns also need these resources earlier. When it ends up coming down to a good ground effort, it just can’t spring up overnight. And mail/TV ads need to be planned in advance, too.True dat. In the future, we need to develop a target list for primaries much further in advance. Too often we jump on board campaigns when it is already too late, as I complained about in my Edjamacation post. We have to start moving in earlier.”

I do not believe that the netroots will be seen as anything more than useful on the ground mobilization and a gigantic, cheap fundraising machine by the Clinton campaign, and the presidential campaigns that will be working the blogs as a multi-way communications medium in 2007-2008 will be splitting the difference six ways to Sunday. So the real action if the netroots and the more general actively involved progressive community will be on the Congressional races and local races. And then finally, several paragraphs later, I finally get back to the point I was starting to riff from Matt Stoller — what races and what decision rules should people start to use to decide where primary challenges for Congressional and Senate seats should be run. These decisions need to start moving now so that credible candidates, parrallel infrastructure and campaigns can get off the ground by the summer of 2007.
I would hazard that the following guidepoints be used in evaluating whether a Democratic incumbent should be challenged. If the answer is “YES” then the case for a challenge strengthens

1) Does the incumbent routinely trash other Democrats and embrace conservative framing
2) Does the incumbent come from a safe district with a high Democratic PVI advantage?
3) Is there significant localized grass roots strength in the district/state?
4) Have these grassroots run successful proof of concept/proof of capacity campaigns the recent past? [Tight losing efforts such as the Cegalis campaign in Illinois would count in this case]
5) Is there at least one credible and experienced progressive candidate willing to step forward?
6) Is this candidate willing to be a serious candidate and challenger, remember that running for a federal office is often an 18 month 12 hour day, 7 day a week full time job.
7) Does the campaign have a realistic plan to leverage the early netroots interest, money, capacity, staff and buzz into a broader campaign that can utilize traditional sources of local power and influence?

I think that if you can get five early yeses, and no obvious roadblocks, then a challenge should be considered and some very early seed money and effort should be devoted. However I believe that all seven of these yeses would be needed for challenges to be worth significant backing from the netroots. These decisions will have to be made early in, at least six to nine months out from the primary to see if early and selective targetting of resources can produce desired results. I am not enough of a political junkie to be able to name the top half dozen districts where we could see five or six “yeses” tomorrow morning for 2008, but I think that these guidelines will have value in choosing where to devote limited resources in the next election cycle early enough for us to have significant influence.

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