Thursday, December 08, 2005

Dean's Wrong: I Don't Have the Power

I owe my political awareness to Howard Dean. Because of him I started blogging, volunteering and donating to Democrats. Dean's rallying cry in the 2004 campaign was "You have the power." The more I learned about the Republicans in control of our government, the more I wanted to use this power to help elect Democrats.

This is why I started supporting a local candidate running for Congress in my own district. Henry Hyde's district. With Christine Cegelis' campaign as a rallying point, I saw more Democrats active in my district than I've seen in my lifetime.

But now, as the Democratic primary approaches, I read of the DCCC again passing over a candidate who newly energized Democrats in my district overwhelmingly support. I read of the DCCC's backing of a candidate with no political experience and few ties to my district. I read of the advantages of military credentials and "wounds" - not issues that matter to the district. I read of the finest political consultants money can buy working for a candidate who hasn't even done any fundraising in the district yet.

As I watch this unfold, I wonder what power I really have.

I wonder how much power I have when a whisper campaign can be spread about Cegelis by a DCCC spokesman and anonymous incumbent Democrats and their aides:
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.”

I repeatedly hear that Cegelis is a poor candidate for one reason alone: her bottom line. But rarely do I hear any other criticism of her. And even less seldom do I hear this criticism put together with the reality of who controls the donor base Cegelis relies on and who is pushing Duckworth's campaign:
Emanuel (D-Ill.) has been encouraging Duckworth to get in the race for the west suburban seat being vacated by Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), undermining Cegelis because he is convinced she cannot raise enough money to win a general election..

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) first broached the idea of a congressional run with Duckworth, who, as his guest, sat in the House gallery at the State of the Union address last February.

[...]

While Duckworth is a political rookie with no campaign experience or political organization behind her, if she runs, she will be able to tap into a turnkey political operation engineered in large part by Emanuel.

[...]

Emanuel has been shopping for someone to run against Cegelis for months, so the emergence of Duckworth was not unanticipated.

Let's put two and two together here. The real power for Democratic fundraising in Illinois is Emanuel, not small donors like me. Cegelis shares a donor base with Emanuel, who's district is right next door to IL-06. For months Emanuel has been actively undermining the Cegelis campaign publicly. Yet people still wonder why Cegelis has had difficulty with her fundraising?

It is Emanuel, not me, who has the power to shut down a campaign by choking off it's sources of high dollar donors. Donors in Chicago. Donors in his district. It is Emanuel, not me, that has the power to provide a network of top dollar consultants for turn-key campaign for Duckworth.

Who's gathering signatures to get Duckworth on the ballot? Who's canvassing for her campaign? Who is funding her campaign? Nearly 200 volunteers have canvassed and circulated petitions for Cegelis this year. Approximately 1,400 people donating an average of $120 each have funded the Cegelis campaign. Who has the power here? Volunteers or paid campaign staffers? With the first FEC filing deadline for Duckworth's campaign happening in March, people like me will not have the power to find out who is paying for Duckworth's staff, media, publicist, and turnkey campaign.

Who has the power to decide who runs in my district? Again, it looks not to be residents like me:
Emanuel wants Ladda “Tammy” Duckworth, an Army National Guard pilot who lost her legs and suffered a broken arm when Iraqi insurgents hit her helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade, to jump into the race. According to Bill Burton, the Democratic Campaign Congressional Committee’s (DCCC) spokesman, Emanuel believes her military credentials and wounds give her an edge in a district that no Democrat has ever won.

Military credentials and wounds! I understand the idea of a "fighting Dems" narrative, but didn't think such a narrative would trump name recognition, a volunteer network, boots on the ground, or a deep understanding of district issues. The emphasis here seems to be on the photo-op Duckworth will generate, not district issues. What does that say to Democrats like me in the district?
Gayl Ferraro, chairwoman of the DuPage County Democratic Party, said the issue of Duckworth’s residency coupled with her outside backing could hurt her prospects.

Ferraro noted that Democrats in DuPage, many of whom back Cegelis, have been working for years to build the party despite long odds.

Long odds that will just get longer, as Duckworth's campaign demonstrates that the power to choose a candidate rests not with voters like me, but in the hands of those with money and power outside my district. By ignoring the reality on the ground in IL-06, Rahm and the DCCC set up a lose/lose situation:
If Duckworth runs and wins:
This will be a blow to Democrats in the district who have used the Cegelis campaign as a rallying point as they work to build the local Democratic party. Such a win will most likely be viewed as a hostile take over of the district by Chicago Democrats and have a lasting effect on those most active in the district, as a bitter primary will hurt a race in which every vote will be needed to win.

If Duckworth runs and loses:
Roskam will jump all over this and run with the "Cegelis' own party wouldn't support her" narrative. Just as was done to Dean in his primary, Roskam will use this to falsely paint Cegelis as radically on the fringe of her own party. The primary would be essentially a complete vote of no confidence by the Party for Cegelis, making what is already going to be a difficult race for any Democrat that much more difficult for her. How will Rahm and the DCCC support Cegelis then after working against her in the primary?

Gov. Dean told us "You have the power." In 2004 I believed him. As I watch what's happening to the Cegelis campaign, I'm not so sure anymore.