Thursday, December 01, 2005

More on McNerney's Endorsements

I know this has been long in coming, but here are some additional thoughts about the endorsement of Jerry McNerney by the San Joaquin-Calaveras Central Labor Council. (Note, I referred to the group as the San Joaquin County Central Labor Council in my last post, but it appears that they include unions from Calaveras County, which is not part of the district). Hank Shaw from the Stockton Record picked up the story in today’s paper. He provides a quote that I think captures a dynamic in the primary battle:

Gene Davenport of the International Longshore & Warehouse Union Local 54 says his union and the San Joaquin-Calaveras Central Labor Council have endorsed McNerney instead of Filson.

"We were with McNerney in the last election," Davenport said. "We know what he stands for."

Davenport said he was upset the DCCC would arbitrarily anoint a candidate without discussing it with local labor groups first.

"They more or less said this is how it's going to be," he said. "I don't particularly like the way they think they can do business."

Here Davenport is voicing a concern shared by many Democratic activists, including many who are still neutral about the primary. I have heard many say that their main objection to Filson at this point is their feeling that he has been imposed on the district by Ellen Tauscher and the DCCC, who did not consult with local Democrats about Filson before they (Tauscher and the D-trip) decided to back him.

Note, this is a fairly non-ideological concern. In my experience, I’ve heard it voiced much more than ideological concerns about Filson. This is important because there seems to be an assumption that Democratic activists only will support a Barbara Lee of the Central Valley. Nothing could be further from the truth. Everyone wants to beat Pombo and everyone understands that the district leans Republican, which means that pragmatic concerns necessarily mitigate strongly against abstract desires for ideological purity.

Whatever you think about Filson’s chances against Pombo, it’s hard to argue that he should not have at least introduced himself to grassroots leaders before contacting the newspapers about his candidacy. And after it became apparent that this was a problem, there were probably better ways to deal with it than Filson employed. Certainly, you don’t win over any supporters by telling the people who’ve been working day in day out for months and years to build the Democratic Party that you deserve their support because you volunteered a couple of days for one candidate or another over the last decade.

But everyone would forgive Filson his missteps if he could unambiguously prove that he is the real deal. (Obviously, if he wins the primary the case will be closed on this count). Remember, Filson was supposed to be a good candidate partially because his union membership was thought to give him an in with Labor. Well McNerney’s recent endorsements (I notice the ILW Local 54 has also endorsed him) raise the possibility that Filson’s connection with Labor is more apparent than real. And Filson’s failure to deliver on this count raises the possibility that his other supposed strengths are more apparent than actual. Specifically, I think it’s an open question as to whether he would be able to attract the necessary support of moderates and Independents to win against Pombo in the general election. The only concrete attribute Filson has proved is his ability to raise money. That’s certainly a necessary attribute, but it’s not sufficient.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was a Pombo staffer that prematurely tipped off the papers about Filson's candidacy -- precisely to set up the sort of sniping that's going on now.

8:48 PM, December 01, 2005  
Blogger Matt said...


I'm skeptical of this explanation. For one thing, the newspaper articles came out after Filson decided to run. Look at how he explained his decision:

"After Danville became a part of District 11 a few years ago, I began to pay attention to Mr. Pombo's voting record and I became very upset," said 58-year-old Filson, a Democrat who describes himself as a fiscal conservative and social moderate. "So, I made a few calls, met with people and decided, 'I can do this.'" (Source)

But even if Filson was forced to put a good spin on things after a leak to the papers, he made no effort to mend fences afterwards. So even if this was caused by Pombo, Filson exacerbated the situation by his (lack of) response.

10:20 PM, December 01, 2005  
Blogger VPO said...

Yes, I wish Filson was a more appealing candidate and had some kind of experience and respect in the community so we all could rally behind him. Then we could accept the dictates of Tauscher and the DCCC and say, "Yes, he's the one. Good choice Washington bigwigs!".

However, Filson is not that way. He has no previous political experience, is an unknown in every respect, and somehow catapulted to the DCCC's forefront for no apparent reason other than his friendship with Tauscher and a resume that includes military service.

Maybe in real politics none of this matters, as Dems would get behind him, the appartik would see that he is well funded, and if his team can put together a good enough TV image for him, with his Navy background, he could attract enough voters from the middle and from moderate Repubs to win.

In that case, it is not really him winning, but the Dem machine. Filson is just the face of the machine. This machine could have gotten behind McNerney in 2004 and upset Pombo then, but decided not to. Seems that they have woken up for 2006.

So perhaps in the "real world", it is the whole party machine behind a candidate that makes or breaks him or her, as that is where the money and supporters come from. Individual Dems may not support Filson per se, but they support the party and want to see their candidate win, whoever it is.

I wonder, however, if McNerney or Ensign won the primary, would all the Filson supporters and money would move over to them? Would the DCCC and Tauscher enthusiastically back McNerney or Ensign at that time and give either of them the support they need to win? You would think so, but I wonder how it will really pan out if "their candidate" gets rejected.

Maybe it would have been smarter for the DCCC and Tauscher to let the district Dems be engaged as to what candidate they want. It would have been wiser for them to remain neutral until the primary, and see who gets the most inside-the-district support at that time, I think. Or at least, as Matt points out, introduce Filson slowly and gain support for him with the local Dems before declarihg him the front-runner by fiat.

10:59 PM, December 01, 2005  
Anonymous Jesse said...

Matt and VPO, did either of you guys support or work for McNerney in the 2004 campaign? I did not see McNerney as a serious candidate then. I saw him as a liberal from the far left of the party. I did not think he could attract sufficient moderate or conservative voters to win the race. The results of the race proved me right. And, I think he made Pombo look better in this District than we all know is true. I still do not see him as a serious candidate. I am a moderate Democrat living in San Joaquin County. I hope to be able to share my thoughts in greater detail in future comments and/or postings. As I am a relatively unsophisticated computer user (this is my second blog posting ever), I expect I will end up proceeding slowly down this path.

7:25 AM, December 02, 2005  
Anonymous Jesse said...

Oh, I am supporting Steve Filson in this primary contest as I believe he is the only declared candidate who can beat Pombo. And, that is the common goal we all share.

7:46 AM, December 02, 2005  
Blogger VPO said...

Ok, just to finish this line of thinking out, the theory the DCCC seems to be operating on is:

The DCCC evaluates what is needed in the District, selects a man with centrist views and a military background (and rejects McNerney). Though the DCCC would prefer a candidate with political experience (say, Mike Machado), they take who they can get at the time, and decide to "make him a star."

The grassroots on the other hand tend to be passionate people with strong beliefs that are generally leftists in the Dem party. So therefore, the grassroots candidate is often too far to the left. Yes, he can motivate the determined activists -- the progressives and liberal wing of the party -- in ways a centrist cannot, but that does not necessarily translate to an election win.

So in this view, the DCCC is being a bit smarter as far as the election as a whole by finding someone middle of the road and thus more "electable". The idea is that as long as their candidate can present a reasonable message and attract centrist voters, perhaps even some Repub moderates, they feel they could have a winner.

The implication of this view is that grassroot activists and leftist/progressive candidates are marginal and not exactly unimportant, but just people you don't want to give much say in things. A progressive candidate is "unelectable" and would not play well in Washington anyway. The left wing will get behind the Dem candidate anyway, since the only other choice is Pombo.

In summary, the District is right-leaning, so the Dem candidate needs to be that way also.

I don't know whether all that is true or not, but I am trying to parse the DCCC reasoning on this and see if it makes sense on the ground.

It is very interesting to hear from Jesse, who is a moderate Dem, but sees McNerney as too liberal and far left. That is a very telling statement, and I am very glad Jesse has added this to the discussion. I wonder what aspects of McNerney's platform are too liberal and far left even for a Dem, and what Filson/DCCC's views are on those same issues that make him more appealing?

Also, my discussion above uses a lot of labels, like left, progressive, centrist. What exactly do these mean? The political discussions tend to fall into easy to use categories, but it seems the issues are so complex these days, the categories hardly fit.

So Filson is being called (or calling himself) "centrist" -- what exactly does this mean? It seems in this race the biggest point of differentiation between "left" and "centrist" is the views on the Iraqi war. "Centrist" says maybe it was a mistake, but we need to see it through. Filson says he is not anti-war, but "anti-failure".

McNerney on the other hand is calling for timetable for a withdrawal (and Ensign is still examing the issue, it seems, but she has been critical of Bush and the war in her Stockton Record columns).

Perhaps that is the biggest difference, and one the DCCC, it seems, thinks is critical to attracting the "moderate" voters.

There must be other issues where McNerney/grassroots are preceived as too far left, but Filson/DCCC are seen as more palatable to the voters of the district. Would those be gay rights, abortion, environment, energy development, poverty, transportation, healthcare -- any of these?

8:19 AM, December 02, 2005  
Blogger Matt said...


Thanks for joining the conversation. That said, let me respond to your comment point by point.

Matt and VPO, did either of you guys support or work for McNerney in the 2004 campaign?

This race was totally off my radar in 2004. Not only did I not support McNerney, I didn't even know who he was.

I did not see McNerney as a serious candidate then. I saw him as a liberal from the far left of the party. I did not think he could attract sufficient moderate or conservative voters to win the race.

You are certainly entitled to your perception, and it does give us a reality check on McNerney to an extent. However, McNerney is not from the "far left of the party."

Furthermore, McNerney's support in 2004 (at least in terms of the people working on the campaign) came in large part from Westly Clark supporters, many of whom were themselves moderate and conservative Dems.

Lastly, everything I've heard about the San Joaquin-Calaveras Central Labor Council is that their membership is much more conservative than the Bay Area labor councils. If Filson was going to show his ability to woo moderates, this was his chance to shine.

The results of the race proved me right.

The results of the race proved no such thing. McNerney did not start campaigning until approximately six months before the general election. He had no institutional support from the left, right, or center of the Democratic party, and he was severely outspent. Despite these hurdles McNerney brought in the same ratio of votes as Elaine Shaw did in 2002 even though she spent half a million dollars to McNerney's $160,000 and got much fewer votes in absolute terms than McNerney.

And, I think he made Pombo look better in this District than we all know is true.

You should know that the DCCC decided to target Pombo on the strength of McNerney's result. In 2004 McNerney showed Pombo was much more vulnerable than anyone would have believed before McNerney ran.

I still do not see him as a serious candidate.

We'll have to see how he does in terms of fundraising this quarter and what other endorsements he can pick up. But he's a lot more credible today than he was in 2004.

I'm a moderate Democrat living in San Joaquin County. I hope to be able to share my thoughts in greater detail in future comments and/or postings. As I am a relatively unsophisticated computer user (this is my second blog posting ever), I expect I will end up proceeding slowly down this path.

Again, thank you for joining us. I hope the conversation we started here will be fruitful for us and for the rest of the readers.

8:49 AM, December 02, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Would the DCCC and Tauscher enthusiastically back McNerney or Ensign at that time and give either of them the support they need to win? "

There seems to be a misconception about DCCC support. Although support from the D-trip can LEAD to money, it also is only given on the BASIS of money. In other words, Filson has to continue raising big money in the fourth quarter to keep the DCCC's support. Furthermore, if Filson hadn't gotten their support, that doesn't mean they would have given it to McNerney -- in fact they definitely wouldn't have for the same reason they didn't in 2004: McNerney hasn't shown he can raise cash. It's sad that's the way it works, but there it is. Part of Filson's appeal was the fact that he's an airline pilot and therefore has a huge pool of people interested in writing checks. But if Filson, McNerney or Ensign don't show they can raise big money, none of them will be seeing much help from the DCCC, regardless of who wins the primary.

11:02 AM, December 02, 2005  
Blogger VPO said...

good comments Anon, thanks, and I think you are right on. The implication of this (and I may be stretching here) is that if a progressive candidate could raise mega-bucks, the DCCC would get behind him or her, since that is the primary basis for determining candidate viability. Do I have that right?

12:37 PM, December 02, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that's right, I don't know if that's because the DCCC thinks the only measure of a campaign's viability is dollars, or if they simply don't want to give money to a candidate that won't meet them halfway. Probably both.

1:08 PM, December 02, 2005  
Anonymous Jesse said...

VPO and Matt, you guys raise some interesting issues concerning which I hope to add my thoughts on at a later time.

VPO, I didn't say that McNerney was too liberal for me but rather that I thought he was too liberal for the majority of voters in this District. Our party has great diversity and I respect all Democrats' views, liberal or otherwise.

In the 2004 primary election, I did not write-in McNerney because I knew nothing about him. In the General election, I voted for him because he was the Democratic candidate and I was not about to vote for Pombo. But I am supporting Steve Filson in this primary election for the reasons I stated above and which I hope to expand on in the future.

But I do want to make it clear that I don't think McNerney or any defeated Democratic candidate in the prior election is entitled to be the Democratic candidate in this election simply because he was the candidate in the prior election. I especially believe this to be true when you consider that McNerney didn't even face a primary opponent in 2004.

5:08 PM, December 02, 2005  
Blogger Matt said...


I responded to your comment on the other thread, where I saw it first. Please check it out here.

However, I want to add something that I just thought about.

Running as a Democrat in a red area often sucks. Really. The base is often weak and disorganized. There aren't huge numbers of donors just waiting to throw money your way (I doubt many blue areas are like that for that matter). The Republicans are often extremely well established. Etc.

And so you run in a red area often underfunded, out-manned, and many times doomed to failure. But you run because it's important that Democrats challenge the Republicans for a whole lot of strategic, structural, as well as ethical reasons.

You're right, if you do run and lose, it's fair game for anyone to challenge you in the primary. But the DCCC here, and it appears in IL-06 as well, is acting as if the people who ran hard races when nobody else would deserve not one drop of respect. Even if you think McNerney is the worst candidate in the world, you don't want to treat him so poorly that other Dems won't want to run against Republicans unless they're sure they can win. Look at Francine Busby. She did substantially similarly against Duke Cunningham as McNerney did against Pombo. Thanks to her campaign we have a credible candidate waiting to take advantage of his resignation.

The bottom line is that McNerney filled a necessary function when he ran against Pombo. He did something meritorious even if he didn't win. And as much as I agree that he needs to earn the right to take on Pombo in 2006, I don't think his contribution was so valueless that he can be treated like trash by the DCCC.

So when people get angry at the DCCC backing Filson, it's not because they expect the DCCC to be backing McNerney because he was first in line. Rather, they expect the DCCC to stay out of the primary like they're supposed to, and let the people in the district sort it out.

Also, I think another consideration is that Filson's main patron (Tauscher) doesn't even live in the district or have any stake in the outcome. If Tauscher were the Mayor of Stockton or if Filson had the backing of Machado or Barbara Matthews, I think the DCCC's involvement might come across as less of an affront.

6:08 PM, December 02, 2005  

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