Issue # 9
why are all these centrist white men running for president
|Opinion Haver||Apr 24, 2019|
America is rediscovering Steny Hoyer, and they’re not particularly liking what they’re seeing. Forgetting about him is understandable. Even by the standards of Congress, he’s not a particularly electrifying presence. He is, however, the second most powerful Democrat in the House, and has had a position in House leadership since the 90s. Our subscribers may recall that from our more extensive look at his record we pointed out that he’s got a long record of pre-capitulation.
When Obama came to him early on in 2009 with the intention making high income tax deduction less regressive, one of his campaign promises, Hoyer opposed the move, worried about upsetting corporate donors. While the house was debating cramdown legislation (an Obama campaign promise and eventually-stripped provision in Dodd-Frank that would allow bankruptcy courts to do more to help borrowers avoid foreclosure), Hoyer was publicly expressing doubts about whether it was even a good policy, and pushing for a compromise measure instead.
Hoyer’s position during the ACA battle was similarly less than helpful. Almost immediately Hoyer said that the public option would need to be taken out of the bill to get it to pass. Pelosi disagreed, and less than two months later passed a version of the ACA with a public option. The public option would eventually be stricken from the bill for a reason entirely outside of the House’s control (Joe Fucking Lieberman), but not before moving the debate to the left and winning other concessions for its exclusion.
And now, when confronted with the question of impeachment, Steny has said that we shouldn’t even be discussing beginning the process of opening an investigation to prepare for a vote on impeachment because "Very frankly, there is an election in 18 months and the American people will make a judgment." Never minding, of course, the fact that only a few months ago the country elected Democrats to the House in part to control Trump because voters would have that chance for two years. This brief scuffle ignited some interest in his only current challenger, Mckayla Wilkes. Wilkes is someone we’ve covered very briefly before, and we’re going to use this as an opportunity to talk about money and viability.
Money isn’t everything, or even all it’s cracked up to be. Plenty of candidates get outraised and win, and at large amounts, more money isn’t going to be doing much. Realistically, every dollar spent by a campaign is worth less than the dollar spent before it, and party organizations tend to overestimate the usefulness of money (maybe because they’re very good at raising it). But money’s not worthless, and there’s a certain amount that a campaign needs to raise to be functional to the point where victory is a possibility (obviously this doesn’t apply to general election campaigns in safe districts). A campaign has to reach a lot of people and build up basic infrastructure for expenses both big, like getting out the vote and distributing flyers, and small, like qualifying for the ballot and running a website. The Ocasio-Cortez campaign reinvented small-dollar campaigning. They utilized outside organizations, had scores of volunteers, didn’t put a single ad on television, and even had someone on staff build a canvassing app better than a tech company on an expensive contract. And even still, they wound up spending over $7.00 per voter in the primary. Below a certain level of resources, a campaign for a congressional seat simply can not function on the scale it needs to.
How much money a campaign is raising isn’t a direct measure of anything, but it can be an indication of what the campaign is capable of. You can forgo spending much of anything in a state legislative seat with 20,000 people in it and get by with gumption and elbow grease. But when you’re facing down something on the scale of a congressional race, that’s not possible. Every cycle there are hundreds of primary challengers, most of whom raise a few thousand and then lose in a landslide. We aim to cover notable candidates.
Some candidates are notable because they come in with some form of recognition among the voters: a previous campaign, a form of local celebrity, or a political office they hold or held. But for others demostrating that they can compete means showing resources. That might mean the backing of a powerful organization, or it might mean cash. Mckayla Wilkes raised almost $6,000 in her first week of the campaign, and at the time we noted that if she could keep up that pace for a while she might be someone to watch out for. On the back Hoyer’s comments, she got some press coverage and is now up to $25,000. That’s a start a first-time candidate can feel good about. It’s also still a lost less than a congressional campaign will wind up costing.
But you know what? There’s a year to go. There are a lot of candidates in Wilkes’s position right now, and we hope they build on their starting position to become real threats to the incumbents they’re running against. And when they’ve demonstrated their abilities, we’ll be covering them.
On Monday, New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver announced her entry into the Senate primary. She was the last candidate publicly considering the race, so the field has likely gelled at this point, setting up a two way race between her and Congressman Ben Ray Luján, of NM-03.
Toulouse Oliver, who uses both last names without a hyphen, is an Albuquerque politician who served as the Bernalillo County Clerk for eight years, 2009-2016, before running for and winning the 2016 Secretary of State special election. She then easily won a full four-year term in 2018. Ben Ray Luján’s home base is the other major Democratic city in the state. He lives near Santa Fe, which he has represented since 2004, when he won a race for the Public Service Commission. In the 2008 primary for NM-03, it was where he did best. Surprisingly, New Mexico doesn’t have a long record of Albuquerque vs. Santa Fe contests, and in fact they tend to vote similarly. You can find several primaries where it’s those two counties against much of the rest of the state. Bernalillo County has been getting more and more Democratic over the years, making it increasingly important for Democratic primaries, casting about ⅓ of the votes the 2018 Democratic primaries. If Toulouse Oliver can get Albuquerque to perform for her, that will be very powerful.
Racial and gender identity could also be impactful in the race. Luján is Hispanic while Toulouse Oliver is Anglo, and as we’ve already mentioned, the Latino Victory Fund got behind him practically the moment outgoing Sen. Tom Udall announced his retirement. New Mexico is about 46% Hispanic and only 41% non-Hispanic white, with the balance mostly being Native Americans. Conversely, as far as national groups are concerned, Oliver could benefit from women’s groups. She’s eligible for the EMILY’s List endorsement, and indeed received it in her 2016 and 2018 campaigns. (EMILY’s List supports pro-choice Democratic women in primaries.) EMILY’s List, while they have something of a reputation for caution, has gotten involved involved in similar races, notably Maryland’s open Senate seat in 2016, endorsing progressive firebrand Congresswoman Donna Edwards (who got to Congress by primarying out an incumbent in 2008). Some analysts also have found that women generally performed better in Democratic primaries in 2018.
Luján is getting support from national politicians, including Nancy Pelosi and Deb Haaland. Oh, and the DSCC. That’s...not good. We’re angry, and we need to talk about this. Luján and Toulouse Oliver are both progressive without being leftists, and our preference in the primary isn’t strong, so we’re not angry that they’re choosing Luján over Toulouse Oliver; we’re angry that they’re choosing anyone at all. This is a blue state, and not only have no strong Republicans entered the race, none at all really exist anymore in New Mexico, so the DSCC doesn’t even have the potential pretense of selecting for electability, which itself is rarely something that can be cleanly discerned. This is a case of the DSCC attempting to get their friend (Luján is in House leadership and chaired the DSCC’s House counterpart, the DCCC) into the Senate, not anything about winning or losing seats for the party, which is a dangerous thing for the DSCC to start doing (and it gives fodder to activists who have long claimed this is the true reason for party meddling in primaries).
New York Assemblyman and DNC Vice Chair Michael Blake filed with the FEC to run for New York’s 15th congressional district on Tuesday, making him the latest entry into the primary to succeed retiring Rep. José Serrano. Blake joins local activist Tomas Ramos and City Councilors Ritchie Torres and Rubén Díaz Sr. in the race, with the field still having potential to grow.
Blake, as we discussed in our initial coverage of the open seat back in March, unsuccessfully ran for Public Advocate in the February 2019 special election. He did comparatively well in NY-15 in that race, getting 23% in the district. He’s liberal, but establishment-friendly; after all, he’s a DNC Vice Chair, and he was also a longtime Obama operative.
Blake has been in the Assembly since his first election in 2014, and has kept a mostly progressive voting record, although that’s true of about ⅔ of the Democratic caucus in the chamber, since the bills that actually make it to the floor are controlled by the liberal-but-not-too-liberal leadership. His Public Advocate campaign was competent but nothing special, either in terms of campaigning or his platform. There’s also the odd matter of Blake’s side job. According to financial disclosures, he’s been paid tens of thousands of dollars by a Bermuda political party for foreign consulting work, leading some to ask whether he should have been registered as a foreign agent.
A major obstacle for Blake could be race. NY-15 is 67% Hispanic or Latino and only 36% black (some residents are both, but few are neither). He’s black in a heavily Latino seat, and unlike in some states where Latinx voters are far less of a presence in primaries than their population would suggest, in New York those number mean a clear majority of the electorate will be Latinx. Should a crowded field of Latinx candidates split the Latinx vote, Blake could eke out a plurality win by uniting black voters; however, Torres is both black and Latinx, so Blake will not be the only black candidate in the race. Blake’s district is a near even mix between the two, so he could start with something of a base (or at least name recognition) among Latinx voters. Blake’s biggest strength, however, is probably money. He raised over $200,000 for his public advocate race and projected confidence about his fundraising.
As far as ideology and establishment/outsider dynamics go, Blake is preferable to Díaz (a horrific homophobe) but probably not as good as Ramos or Torres, who are both expected to run as AOC-style progressive outsiders. As of now, we haven’t heard anything definitive from any of the numerous other candidates rumored or known to be considering. However, some unnamed sources have told the Wall Street Journal that both State Senator Gustavo Rivera and Assemblyman / Bronx machine boss Marcos Crespo will stay out.
On Monday, Seth Moulton announced his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination, to which most people reacted “Who?”. And while he says he’s running for re-election as well, he also filed with the FEC to tell them that he’s no longer a candidate for MA-06, a filing that’s tailor-made for ad fodder. Like in OH-13 and HI-02, this puts us in a weird limbo where the incumbent is kind of running for re-election, but isn’t totally doing so, leading to a sort of open, sort of not race that candidates are treating somewhere between. In the case of MA-06, ex state senator Barbara L’Italien had her usual blunt take on the situation
“I’m disappointed but not surprised that Seth has decided again to follow his personal ambition instead of his district,” L’Italien said in a statement to the Herald yesterday. “Seth has failed to deliver for his district, failed spectacularly in his attempts to remove Nancy Pelosi as speaker, and I think so far failed to put forth a compelling reason why he’s qualified to be president.”
L’Italien still has yet to make a decision about whether she is getting into the race yet, making this whole ordeal reminiscent of where we were almost two months ago, with L’Italien attacking Moulton for running, but not being willing to get in herself just yet.
Then there’s Jamie Zahlaway Belsito. Two weeks ago we pointed out she had filed with the FEC, but done nothing else indicating she was running. Apparently she was just waiting for Moulton to announce, because she is now in. We noted then that her position on the Salem Board of Trustees was an appointment from the governor. The governor in question was Republican Charlie Baker. We were willing to not hold that against her, since Massachusetts governors make hundreds of appointments, all of which must be approved by a Democratic governing body, so you can’t just assume every smaller appointment is ideological. But, as Commonwealth Magazine points out, she only became a Democrat recently, and in 2014 was a huge booster for the Republican candidate in MA-06. It’s quite possible she wouldn’t even be an upgrade from Moulton.
Another politician putting herself in consideration is state representative Lori Ehrlich, who also took a jab at Moulton, saying that MA-06 needs “full time representation” and that she might need to be the one to do it if Moulton couldn’t provide it. Ehrlich has spent a decade in the State House, representing Marblehead, a well-off town located on a small peninsula, which is a population boating and recreation area. Ehrlich has been a progressive representative, standing against the few anti-union bills to make it out of the House, and a productive one. She was largely responsible for mostly ending non-compete agreements in Massachusetts, and has recently turned her attention to journalism deserts and global warming.
We’d also watch out for Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, who has said she’d consider running, but only if Moulton stepped aside. We don’t know if that means she’s a fan of his, or if she just doesn’t want to challenge an incumbent.
New Mexico was a swing state for decades, and only really began to embrace progressive policies recently. This has lead to pushback from a collection of more conservative Democrats in the legislature who liked things better when nothing much got changed. The clearest example of this was in 2009, when Senate Democrats, who held the chamber 27-15, voted internally to elect a more progressive Senate President. The conservatives balked, and voted instead with Republicans to give control of the chamber to Timothy Jennings, perhaps the most conservative member of the Democratic caucus, functionally ushering in an era of R-D coalition control during the last years of a Democratic trifecta in New Mexico until now. Of the eight aisle crossers, some are no longer in the state senate, and others have toned down their opposition to progressives. But not all of them.
Mary Papen is still in the senate, and still weighing Democrats down. In 2013, Republicans and conservative Democrats once again got together a coalition to oppose the more liberal nominee the senate’s Democrats had put up for Senate President. Instead of Jennings, this time they went with Papen. She opposes not just marijuana legalization, but even marijuana decriminalization, and holds powerful positions in the state senate that she could use to hinder or even kill it. Last month she killed Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s proposed $12/hr minimum wage bill and replaced it with legislation business groups wanted. She was also one of the few votes to preserve local anti-union right-to-work measures, and frequently sides with business groups over unions. She was also one of the few Democrats who worked to keep New Mexico’s abortion ban.
Last week, after the close of the legislative session, there were rumblings of progressive efforts to out four state senate Democrats who had done the most to stymie progressive legislation. It looks like they’ve already landed a challenger to Papen. Tracy Perry is a Las Cruces single mother who runs a therapy service for people with disabilities. She’s spent years lobbying the legislature to provide more support to the state’s disabled population, and has finally had enough. She’s promised to run on a progressive platform, although there’s no word if she’ll have the backing of the aforementioned progressive groups. Considering Papen’s anti-union efforts, we could also see Perry getting the backing of unions and conservation groups, who in 2012 led efforts to to oust conservative lawmakers.
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