What IL-06 Can Tell Us About CA-11
On Tuesday there was a much-watched primary race in IL-06 between Christine Cegelis, Tammy Duckworth, and Lindy Scott. Scott was never considered the front-runner, and the main focus on the race was the dynamic of Cegelis vs. Duckworth. Cegelis had run against Henry Hyde in 2004 with no Democratic support and had pulled a respectable 44% in a Republican district. After Hyde announced he’d retire in 2006, Rahm Emanuel and the DCCC decided that Cegelis wasn’t viable and went about recruiting another candidate. They settled on Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq War vet who’d lost two legs when he chopper crashed due to enemy fire. Duckworth had an incredible resume (at least from a marketing perspective) but she had no ties to the district and no indigenous support in the district when the DCCC and the party establishment got behind her. Duckworth’s campaign was massively aided by Dick Durbin, Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel, and the rest of the Democratic Party establishment. This, despite the fact that Cegelis had managed to inspire the grassroots in a district with no Democratic elected officials and almost no Democratic Party infrastructure. I hope, in broad strokes, the parallels to CA-11 are apparent.
In any event, on Tuesday night Duckworth, who probably outspent Cegelis by about 6 to 1, narrowly eked out a 44% to 40% victory (the margin was just over 1,000 votes). And in the aftermath there has been a lot of post-mortem analysis. What’s interesting is that I have seen both Duckworth supporters, Cegelis supporters, and neutral observers all agree on one thing: that the DCCC was full of shit when it came to this race.
Chris Bowers of MyDD wrote:
At the very least, I, for one, would hope that this does at least some damage to the "Rahm Emmanuel is hyper-effective" meme for a long time to come. It hard to imagine how anyone could have fucked up a district worse than this. Well done man -- you built an utterly ineffective political operation in the area and simultaneously embittered every grassroots activist who could have helped breath some life into that operation. This just gives me loads of confidence for November.
Matt Stoller of MyDD wrote (the bolding of text is mine, the italics are in the original):
Incidentally, for an example of the DCCC pretending McNerney and Thomas don’t exist, check out this post by Howie.
Like Chris, I screwed up on Cegelis. I didn't realize that the party establishment was as weak as it was, and I didn't get the basic dishonesty of the DCCC in this fight. The DCCC was squeezing donors hard to give to Duckworth, as did golden boy Barack Obama who appeared in Duckworth's commercial. But what offends me is not that they weighed in on Duckworth's side, but that they pretended like Cegelis did not exist.
Now it’s important to point out that in IL-06 it was not just the DCCC that ran over the local grassroots. Some other people got suckered by the DCCC bullshit. To see how this worked, I think it’s important to read this excerpt from Daniel Biss, a Duckworth supporter (emphasis mine):
On the Duckworth side, the assumption was just that these people [i.e. Cegelis supporters] didn't know what they were talking about. From what I can tell, everyone, from the bigshots who pushed her candidacy in the first place on down, just assumed that it was all smoke and mirrors and when push came to shove, she wouldn't have a real organization.Right now there is a lot of discussion about what the Cegelis supporters are going to do. A lot of them feel very little inclination to support Duckworth in any substantive way. And consequently, Duckworth’s victory is somewhat pyrrhic from the perspective of electoral politics. (From the perspective of the pols who were trying to retain power in the party, her victory served its purpose).
We now know, of course, that the Cegelis camp was right (well, with a caveat; it's important to remember that turnout was godawful all around) [Ed Note: Turnout was higher than in the primary in 2004 and 2002].
But so anyway what really bugs me is the way the Duckworth supporters came to their conclusion. Their belief, ever since November of 2004 (and possibly before), was that Cegelis wasn't a credible candidate. I believed it. (I still believe it, in the sense that I still believe that she'd have no chance against Roskam.)
And because they believed that so strongly, they were perfectly content to assume that nothing about her organization was credible. Now, I'm usually hesitant to bandy about internet buzzwords like top-down/bottom-up, but this is literally the most advanced case of top-down sickness I've ever heard of.
And I think this is really corrosive, or at least represents a whole legion of missed opportunities. The problem wasn't, like some have suggested, that "the establishment" was scared of Cegelis, an independent Democrat. The problem wasn't, like some have suggested, that "the establishment" hates progressives. The problem was that people took a look at Cegelis, decided she was a bad candidate, and concluded there was nothing valuable about her campaign.
I've said from the beginning that Duckworth's candidacy was introduced in an avoidably awful way that did damage to grassroots morale (see Lynn Sweet's column in today's Sun-Times for her thoughts about this). But that bothered me in a mostly abstract way: I think it's never a good idea to punch progressive activists in the gut. I bought into the groupthink that while it was a little ugly, it wouldn't really matter in the long run, because surely the Cegelis team didn't have much to offer anyhow.
Well, we now know that was just wrong, and just dumb, and we found out the awful way, by in one fell swoop proving that a group of volunteers could deliver and simultaneously demoralizing them, perhaps irreparably.
Anyhow, I just want to bring this up because I think that IL-06 raised two pertinent questions:
1) Why ought we to believe that the DCCC is any less full of shit with respect to CA-11 than IL-06?
2) Suppose Filson does win. How do we avoid the ill will that will be generated at the grassroots?