Going After the Bad Democrats

by Paul Hogarth on August 30, 2007

It’s easy to get mad at the Democratic Party when the new Congress we elected to end the War can’t get us out of Iraq, and gave the Bush Administration more eavesdropping powers. But the problem is not with all Democrats. It just took 86 House Democrats on the Iraq vote and 41 on the FISA vote to join all Republicans to create an anti-progressive majority. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – who opposed both measures – clearly can’t keep her caucus in line, and it will take a lot pressure from the grassroots to hold these “Bush Dog Democrats” accountable. And a new blog, Open Left, has made targeting them a priority.

“Would you put a bit of money and effort to go after these wayward Democrats?” said Matt Stoller, who helped launch Open Left. “We can’t replace all of them with progressive Democrats, but we can certainly annoy at least a few of them and raise the costs for voting against the Constitution.” That hasn’t gone too well with the party leadership, but letting these Democrats know that they can’t vote with Bush without consequences is absolutely essential.

As Congress plans to hold hearings in September on the Bush “surge,” many Democrats will be under a lot of pressure to continue funding the War. The “Bush Dog” project will focus on targeting these Democrats and get them to commit now to a withdrawal date from Iraq.

Bush Dog Democrats always make the excuse that they’re simply voting their districts, which are more conservative than places like San Francisco. Open Left bloggers like Chris Bowers help de-construct that myth, as they show that even Bush Dog constituents support our Constitution and want our troops home.

But politicians react to fear, and the threat of a Democratic primary challenger is often what it takes to get these Bush Dogs in line. Earlier this year, there was lots of buzz in the liberal blogosphere to challenge Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher, who has generally fought against progressives since getting elected. Even without a candidate emerging, Tauscher has taken a stronger stand against the War after the bloggers scared her.

So the bloggers at Open Left are keeping tabs on individual districts that are represented by Bush Dog Democrats. Where do we have potential candidates who can mount a serious, progressive challenge? What are the possible levers of power that can be used to influence these enablers of the Bush Administration? Open Left works with state and local blogs that cover those districts to help build a ground-based strategy.

Here in California, Open Left has targeted Central Valley Congressman Jim Costa as a Bush Dog Democrat. Of the 38 Democrats who voted both for the Iraq capitulation and the FISA bill, Costa actually represents one of the most liberal districts. With Costa’s long history of being viciously anti-rent control (remember Costa-Hawkins?), he would be the most suited locally for a strong primary challenge.

In the run-up to the 2006 elections, bloggers were instrumental at getting more Democrats to run for Congress – ensuring that the party was ready to capitalize on an imploding Republican majority. Now the challenge is to make these Democrats start voting right. And if it means playing “bad cop” and giving some the Lieberman treatment, so be it.

The 38 Bush Dog Democrats:
Bud Cramer of Alabama
Vic Snyder of Arkansas
Mike Ross of Arkansas
Jim Costa of California
John Salazar of Colorado
Allen Boyd of Florida
John Barrow of Georgia
Jim Marshall of Georgia
Dan Lipinski of Illinois
Melissa Bean of Illinois
Joe Donnelly of Indiana
Brad Ellsworth of Indiana
Baron Hill of Indiana
Leonard Boswell of Iowa
Ben Chandler of Kentucky
Charlie Melancon of Louisiana
Tim Walz of Minnesota
Collin Peterson of Minnesota
Gene Taylor of Mississippi
Bobby Etheridge of North Carolina
Mike McIntyre of North Carolina
Heath Shuler of North Carolina
Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota
Charlie Wilson of Ohio
Zack Space of Ohio
Dan Boren of Oklahoma
Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania
Chris Carney of Pennsylvania
Stephanie Herseth of South Dakota
Lincoln Davis of Tennessee
Jim Cooper of Tennessee
Bart Gordon of Tennessee
John Tanner of Tennessee
Chet Edwards of Texas
Nick Lampson of Texas
Ciro Rodriguez of Texas
Henry Cuellar of Texas
Jim Matheson of Utah

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