THE "WRONG" CANDIDATES. Michael Tomasky yesterday delivered an eloquent version of the challenge to the conventional wisdom that Democrats won the House by running conservative candidates. He's right, of course, although as I argued, the perception that the Democratic Party has moved a bit toward the center is not harmful, even if it just reaffirms the reality that this is and has long been a center-left party.
My answer to this argument had been simply to point out that there were two kinds of districts Democrats won: moderate-liberal districts formerly represented by so-called moderate Republicans, and won by moderate-to-liberal Democrats, and a smaller number of conservative districts, such as North Carolina-11, where a moderate-conservative Democrat unseated a very conservative Republican. It's true, of course, that few of the newly elected Democrats are quite as far left as, say, John Conyers, but that's simply because the districts that are going to elect a Conyers already do. Districts in play are, by definition, more centrist districts.
But an example Tomasky used to show the liberalism of the new Dems was striking:
Why, there's even a woman who was tossed out of a presidential event for wearing an anti-Bush T-shirt (New Hampshire's Carol Shea-Porter), and a fellow who ran an alternative newspaper and who proudly supports affirmative action -- in Kentucky, no less (John Yarmuth).
Yarmuth and Shea-Porter have something in common besides winning: Both were the �wrong� candidates from the point of view of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The Republican that Yarmuth beat, Anne Northup, had been a perpetual Democratic target, with about $6 million spent to defeat her since 1998. This year, the DCCC recruited an Iraq veteran, Col. Andrew Horne to run against Northup, but when Yarmuth won the primary, they gave up on the race. Two separate lefty Kentucky politicos of my acquaintance were excited about Democratic possibilities in two other races -- where Republicans survived -- but told me that Northup was now invulnerable because the primary had turned out wrong.
I didn't follow the New Hampshire race, but it looks the same: Shea-Porter won a four-way primary, defeating a veteran state legislator who had the support of the DCCC, got a campaign visit from Tom Daschle, and out-raised Shea-Porter 10 to 1.
Meanwhile, a good number of the perfect, heavily funded, and aggressively recruited DCCC candidates, such as Patricia Madrid in New Mexico, fell short.
Is there a lesson here? It's not a big sample size, but it suggests that in a district where a Republican was vulnerable to defeat, a plain-spoken progressive could do it at least as easily as a focus-grouped moderate. Perhaps even better.