A couple of news stories on the political front attracted my attention a while back. The first was that Ashley Judd decided not to challenge Mitch McConnell in 2014, leaving the presumptive challenger as Allison Lundergran Grimes. This has predictably set off wails from various of the Left. The second story was from South Carolina, where Elizabeth Colbert Busch is running against Mark Sanford. This is causing some excitement because she’s Steven Colbert’s older sister, and Mark Sanford went from being known as a conservative favorite as Governor to being known for “hiking the Appalachian Trail” in Argentina. There’s some “practical lessons” in both of these candidacies, that various “lefter than left” people won’t learn.
First, let’s look at Ashley Judd. Yes, she is known as a Democratic fundraiser, and has been an outspoken advocate for many progressive causes. This, combined with her fame as an actress, caused all sorts of excitement amongst various progressives outside of Kentucky. The problem? Inside of Kentucky.
The crux of their worry is this: As a celebrity and strong supporter of President Barack Obama, Judd’s position at the top of the ticket could nationalize state and local races. They see her losing the Senate contest — an uphill climb for any Democrat — and potentially poisoning the conservative brand of some state Democrats.
For years, the Kentucky Democratic Party has racked up significant successes at the state and local level, from the governor’s mansion down the ballot. But in federal elections, Republicans have won victory after victory. In November, Obama lost the state, winning less than 38 percent of the vote.
“I have yet to talk to an elected official in Kentucky — other than [Rep.] John [Yarmuth] — who thinks Ashley should run or thinks she can prevail in this contest,” Kentucky Democratic consultant Dale Emmons said.
Note something in that statement? Something that’s anathema to the far left? “the conservative brand of some state Democrats.” Yes, we’re talking Blue Dog territory here. We don’t have to like it, but that’s the reality on the ground. Yes, I know people are going to quote polls that showed her having a tie or a lead then. But that would have been before the campaign rolled out, and the negatives started being run. Yes, there were negatives. She didn’t live in the state, she’d have to move there. She’d spent half the year overseas with her husband, who she’s currently going through a divorce. The other thing that hurt? The perception within the Kentucky Democratic Party that she was being pushed on them. Add in an extensive list of “twistable quotes,” and you were looking at an uphill battle to begin with.
Jumping over to South Carolina, Elizabeth Colbert Busch has a lead (for now) over Mark Sanford. What should be noteworthy at this time (at least for “the Left”) is that she’s not running as a “true progressive,” or even all that liberal. She’s distanced herself from many policies promulgated by the President and what would be considered “mandatory” by most of the Internet liberals. If she is elected, and I hope she is, she’ll be a “Blue Dog.”
Now, some points. The first is that whether you like it or not, and you probably won’t, those are the Democratic Party candidates who are the most likely to win those elections. A “pure progressive” would be lucky to get 30% of the vote. In fact, it would be surprising if one got even close to it. There’s a lot of places like that in this country. They’re not what you’re used to, the place with the solid Democratic Party registration margin and pattern of reliably voting for whomever is on the party line. Yes, there you can push – assuming you’re willing to get in and work at the local party level – for “more progressive” candidates, and know you’re going to win. That won’t get you far enough to resume control of the House and keep control of the Senate, no matter how much you stomp your feet. To do that, you need more than just those seats.
There’s another set of districts which are called “swing districts.” They’re not likely to go for “true Progressives” either. That only happens when you have a lunatic running on the Republican side, and the “true progressive” looks somewhat better. While yes, the Republicans have been running lunatics, it’s not a safe bet to count on it, or at least count on their lunacy showing up during the campaign. A somewhat left of center candidate, or a “moderate” is the most likely to take that.
Then there’s the “red districts.” The “safe Republican” ones. They’ve been gerrymandered to be that way. There actually is a chance to take some of those seats. But, and this is where the “true progressives” – or, as I call them, the frustrati – will howl, the ones who can win there will be … Blue Dogs. Conservative Democrats. The much maligned representatives and senators who don’t vote “the way they should” all the time.
Now the practical politics lesson: Shut up, get behind them, and elect those latter two types. Remember the aftermath of 2010? There were all kinds of gloating going on at the purist blogs about Democrats losing control of the House. It was going to be … “good for the Party,” a “lesson for the country,” and so on. Here’s the reality: It wasn’t good for the Party or the country. I said at the time that you could kiss any chance of a progressive agenda good-bye for at least the next 2 years. It wasn’t just Congress, it was also in various states. Governor and state house races that could have been “winnable” went instead to the Republicans. Which was a particularly bad thing because 2010 was also a census year, which meant that control of redistricting shifted to the Republicans.
For all the griping about “Blue Dogs,” and “less than ideal” Democrats, the reality was that they were generally sane, and wanted government to work. That meant that progressive legislation got passed. Maybe it wasn’t “perfect” legislation, but overall, it was progressive. Funding bills were approved, and government worked. Compare that with the past 2 plus years. Crisis after crisis, and Republicans hell-bent on blocking anything, even “routine” bills. That’s what all the frustrati whining accomplished.
That’s why “the Left” as they call themselves need to get practical. Democrats need the Blue Dogs and the moderates. It’s how we win. They don’t have to like it, but that’s the lesson they should take away from this.