Friday, November 11, 2005

IL-06: Duckworth Angst

With rumors and unofficial DCCC talk of injured Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth entering the race for IL-06, there has been quite a bit of ruffled feathers online by Cegelis supporters. The core complaint seems to be focused on whether Cegelis should get a "free ride" in the primary, having "earned" the nomination by virtue of her name recognition in district, volunteer base in district and past showing against Hyde.

But to me, whether or not Cegelis has earned anything isn't the point. To me, this is a discussion about local politics and how candidates are supported - or not - in their run for office. That Duckworth appears to have been recurited by the Democratic establishment (read DCCC) is the reason for the angst among Cegelis supporters; the cause of which is worthy of discussion and should not be muddied by charges that Cegelis supporters are bashing a "war hero" who has every right to be in the race.

It's obvious that every candidate has a right to run for office. It's how this process gets manipulated by those outside the district that is bothersome. The issue for me is how state and national support for many local in-district candidates is brokered. With regard to Cegelis, it appears the Democratic establishment, as was done to Dean in his primary, has undercut her campaign from early on. From a whisper campaign that has hurt her ability to fundraise, to quiet off-record quotes doubting her efficacy as a candidate, Cegelis has had to fight not only her well funded, well supported, potential Republican opponent, but her own party. Here's just one recent example from The Hill:
While Democrats will not acknowledge publicly that they are frustrated with Cegelis, they have made it known they are open to other contenders’ jumping into the race.

Bill Burton, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), has said the committee has met with other potential candidates.

A Democratic aide on Capitol Hill said simply: “The Democratic field in Illinois-6 is still open.”

That might as well be a tacit endorsement of anyone by Cegelis. Officially they won't talk, but under the radar they are "dissatisfied" with her and her lack of fundraising. And they wonder why Cegelis is not attracting traditional Democratic big donors while they call her a weak candidate based solely on her fundraising number they are helping to suppress!

So now we have rumors of a "war hero" entering the race and the DCCC seems ready to offer their significant resources, and tacit endorsement (publicly or not), behind this unknown candidate; a candidate with no political or campaign experience who may not even live in district. This to me looks like a decision based in opportunistic reasoning rather than a candidate's ability. It's once again about electability, rather than support for local Democrats in the district like Cegelis or Scott.

Duckworth may be a genuine Democrat with great Democratic values. This remains to be seen. But entering the race like this - being recruited at the last minute by Beltway Democrats - makes her look like a puppet of the DCCC. As Roosevelt University political science professor Paul Green notes:
“With her resume, obviously [Duckworth's] going to get a lot of interest,” Green said. “But can she run a campaign? That I don’t know. Once the novelty wears off that here’s a woman who wants to run for office and she gave so much for her country, she still has to know how to campaign in a traditionally Republican district.”

Green said Duckworth’s stand on Iraq could become the central issue. “If she supports the war, it might position her better to beat Roskam, but maybe she won’t make it past Cegelis in the primary.”

I can't blame Duckworth if she took the opportunity being offered to her, and don't begrudge her possible decision to enter the race. I just wonder what the Cegelis campaign would look like with the type of backing and support Duckworth looks poised to be given. Will Duckworth avoid mistakes that Cegelis made because she will have the backing and support in resources, consultants and guidance that Cegelis never had? Does that make her a better candidate than Cegelis, or just a candidate who has greater opportunities and resources?

A genuine primary race would occur between Scott and Cegelis. Both are from district and have a desire to bring change to the district. Add a packaged "war hero" candidate with the backing of the DCCC (even if it is under the radar) and the race is no longer genuine. The field is not level. The primary candidate has been anointed by those outside the district.

For Duckworth to show she hasn't been anoited and the DCCC to show they aren't manipulating local races, Duckworth would have to fundraise on her own, set up her campaign team on her own, recruit volunteers on her own, and get the signatures needed to get her on the ballot on her own - something she has precious little time to do at this point. Cegelis and Scott did all these things on their own. Instead, should this be done for Duckworth, then she is the candidate getting the free ride, not Cegelis.