King Rahm Emanuel the Infallible
In yesterday’s primary race in OH-18, a “Fighting Dem” named Joe Sulzer, who ran with the backing of Rahm Emanuel and a number of prominent Democrats now backing Steve Filson, lost pretty badly (coming in third place in a four-way race) to a man named Zack Space, who won despite raising less than half of the approximately $365,000 that Sulzer raised.
This is a real upset given the conventional wisdom prevalent in DC about the OH-18 race. To see this, look at what Chris Cillizza wrote on the Washington Post’s political blog The Fix on April 10, 2006. He wrote:
Political insiders have long told us that Chillicothe Mayor Joe Sulzer is the favorite to win the May 2 primary and challenge embattled Rep. Bob Ney (R) in the fall.
(What have political insiders long told us about Steve Filson and Richard Pombo? Oh I forget, I’m sure it will come back to me soon).
Now let’s look at what DavidNYC said on Swing State Project after the results came in.
OH-18 (Incumbent, Ney): Big upset. Netroots-backed Zack Space beats Fighting Dem Joe Sulzer quite handily, 39-24. What's more, Sulzer actually finished in third place, behind a candidate I'd never even heard of, Jennifer Stewart.
Now I don’t profess to be an expert on the OH-18 race, having just looked into the Democratic candidates this morning. But it’s pretty clear from the basic research I did that the conventional wisdom got this race really wrong. For one thing, Jennifer Stewart, who raised less than $20,000 as of 4/17/2006 beat the guy, Sulzer, who had all sorts of backing from Washington Democrats. Things are a little bit more difficult to parse from an outsider’s perspective because all of the top three candidates in the Democratic primary held some sort of elected office in the past. But it’s pretty clear that Emanuel and his compatriots really called this one incorrectly. I mean, their guy lost to a person he outspent fifteen-to-one.
I bring this up because the people backing Sulzer were very similar to the cast of DC Democrats backing Steve Filson. Take a look at the list of politicians who either gave Sulzer money from their re-election campaign or from their leadership PAC (bolded and underlined names indicate contributions to Filson as well):
Peter Visclosky (Calumet PAC), Sen. Barak Obama (Hopefund), Tom Daschle (New Leadership for America), Robert Menendez (New Millenium PAC), Rahm Emanuel (Our Common Values and Friends of Rahm Emanuel), Nancy Pelosi (PAC to the Future and Nancy Pelosi for Congress), George Miller (Solidarity PAC), Shelley Berkley (Berkeley for Congress), Ted Strickland (Ted Strickland for Congress), Tim Ryan (Time Ryan for Congress).
To my mind, too much deference has been given to Rahm Emanuel and the DCCC by Democrats who assume that since Emanuel and his crew have won elections, they have some sort of authoritative knowledge of the politics that surpasses the political ken of mere mortals like us. It’s good to remember that the Democratic leaders are just people, like the rest of us. They might have all sorts of political skills that most of us lack, but they also have their own personal agendas and they are also subject to institutional pressures that don’t reach down to the grassroots. And sometimes those differences are going to lead to biases that have very little to do with the political facts on the ground.
Now I want to make clear that none of this gives us evidence that Jerry McNerney is going to win the CA-11 primary. But it does give us evidence to question the appeals folks make to the authority of Rahm Emanuel and Nancy Pelosi when they speak about the Filson race. There is no doubt that the conventional wisdom in Washington is that Filson is the best candidate. What I doubt is the epistemological value of the conventional wisdom. There is too much conventionality to it, too much lazy thinking and superficial analysis, for me. Rahm Emanuel is a full-throated supporter of Steve Filson. It would be foolish to ignore how Emanuel’s influence, whether he is right or wrong about Filson, can affect the race. But it’s important to note that Emanuel and the other Congressional leaders really screwed the pooch in OH-18. I think they’re doing the same thing here in CA-11.
And the saddest thing is that now that Steve Filson has been admitted to the Red to Blue program, the DCCC will almost certainly start funneling money to him. Not content to simply support him unofficially, the DCCC is now going to entangle itself in the inner-workings of a Democratic primary in CA-11. We’ll have to see how much the DCCC doles out in candidate welfare, but Emanuel seems intent to hitch Filson’s broken wagon of a campaign to the DCCC’s horses and drag him across the finish line.
It must be nice to have friends in high places. And it must be nice to rest easy in the warm embrace of faith in those people on high. Emanuel’s name reminds us that God is with us. And his deeds remind us that Mammon is too. What high towers they build in Washington. I have tried to call out to them who verily sit at the foot of God. But I fear that they don’t understand my tongue. So here I sit in California like a red-legged frog, like the Democratic Party, croaking.