Never have the stakes been higher.
We have an election which occurs as our country is stuck trying to hold together a foreign country essentially composed of three nations (Shiite, Sunni and Kurd) which is ready to fly apart (with the sort of results that would have occurred if we had forcibly tried to hold the former Soviet Union or Yugoslavia together when they went their natural way and gave birth to several other nations). John Murtha, who for decades has been a staunch proponent of the military, has a plan that Democrats are rallying behind (belatedly, to be sure, but late is better than never) to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq in an orderly fashion and in a way that will allow the Iraqi government, should they still want to fight out what I consider to be a futile effort to hold three nations together, will be able to take over what we have been doing.
We are mired in an enormous debt that will again become an enormous problem as interest rates continue to rise (recall that in 1992, the personal income taxes paid by everyone west of the Mississippi went to pay interest on the national debt, and for no other purpose at all), and yet the President and many of the Republicans in Congress, far from wanting to address the debt, want to cut taxes further and only add to the problem.
We have the most expensive health care system in the world continuing to explode upward in price while the quality of access drops for the forty-six million people who can't afford insurance, and even for tens of millions more who can.
We have seen America's lead in science nearly evaporate as we have the first administration ever that tries to force scientists to produce falsified data in order to fit their ideology and punishes those who don't go along with that.
The good news is that the public realizes this and according to many polls are ready to sweep Republicans out of control on Capitol Hill and elect Democrats to replace them. What Democrats need now is not to trip ourselves up as we enter the sprint to the finish line, a sprint which we enter ahead, but not comfortably so. A mistake could still cost us the race.
Unfortunately that is not such an easy thing to achieve. We've seen how in Connecticut, after Ned Lamont defeated Joe Lieberman in a Democratic primary, fair and square, the defeated candidate instead of conceding gracefully and working to see the winner retain the seat for the Democrats, announced that he will run as an independent for the seat. Republicans, who have a token candidate on the ballot there, have decided to abandon their own nominee in order to support Lieberman and try to reverse the verdict of the Democratic party in Connecticut.
So what about here in Arizona? Well, this is a Republican state on balance, though Democrats can win here. I'd like to take you back to two races in particular. The Republican race for Attorney General in 1998 and the Democratic race for Congressional District One in 2002.
In 1998, the GOP here saw a very nasty primary between Tom McGovern and John Kaites. That opened the door for an unknown Phoenix attorney named Janet Napolitano to win in November (Republicans closed ranks and won all of the other statewide races that year). Of course, the rest is history as Janet performed ably in the position and used it to launch a successful bid for Governor in 2002, and is now cruising along with approval ratings that consistently fall in the 70% range. Had McGovern (who won the GOP nomination) and Kaites not had such an angry primary and had they managed to unify their supporters after the primary, it's possible that the most successful Democratic politician in Arizona would not have been elected in her first race. Instead, she served a term as A.G., likely two terms as Governor and after that, who knows (though by a happy confluence of the stars, if she wins, as she is likely to, her term ends in 2010, when John McCain will be older than the hills and either have won or lost the Presidency-- in the latter case he will either be vulnerable or ready to retire). I of course am glad that things turned out as they did, but I point this out as an example of how internecine bickering can cause long term consequences to the detriment of the party where the bickering occurs, consequences that could conceivably affect the national political landscape decades later.
In 2002, we had a brand new congressional district up here in the Northern part of the state. We have an 8% Democratic registration edge, but it is a very competitive district. In a multi-candidate primary, several candidates split the vote, and the surprise nominee of the party was George Cordova. As I wrote in a comment on a post on Tedski's wonderful blog, Rum, Romanism and Rebellion,
In 2002, we had an open district in CD 1 (which is 43-35% Democratic in voter registration). After a hard fought multi-candidate primary, the nominee was a surprise winner, a guy named George Cordova. The Republicans nominated Rick Renzi, a Virginian who had moved to Arizona only to run for the seat.
OUR FAILURE TO COALESCE AROUND THE WINNING CANDIDATE CAUSED US TO LOSE THE RACE.
And that is WHY there are fifteen (rather than fourteen) seats that Democrats have to win to take back the house. I did not work for or vote for George Cordova in the primary. I did vote for George Cordova in the general election, but I did not work for him then. Neither did a lot of Democrats who had supported other candidates. I regret it every day I realize that Richmond Rickey is now my 'representative' (he still lives with his family in Virginia pretty much all the time-- the house he owns in Flagstaff is more of a campaign headquarters.)
In fact it turns out that the ton of money that Renzi raised and spent in that election was illegal. Cordova actually sued him-- and settled out of court-- for outright lies that Renzi told in commercials about him, accusing him of embezzling funds from his business partners and wiring it to his uncle in Mexico (which would be a felony if it were true, and Cordova would be in jail, but it was not true.) Renzi, meanwhile, is on the list of the '13 most corrupt members of Congress', a list which includes Duke Cunningham (who is now in prison after a bribery conviction), William Jefferson (the guy with the 'cold cash' stored in his freezer) and Bob Ney (who just quit the other day as investigators get closer to him).
Now, let's look at this year. The specific comment that caused me to post my rant on Tedski's blog was a comment by a person from Congressional district eight that they would not support a particular candidate there if that person is the nominee. Come on guys, you have a real chance to pick up an open seat down there since the Kolbe retirement. Just don't blow it like we did up here four years ago. So maybe you will wake up on Sept. 13 and realize that you don't like who the nominee is. Would you rather get Randy Graf representing you?
And what about up here in Congressional district one? A lot of people are tired of Renzi. Everything from his continued residence in Virginia to his rubber stamp support of Bush on key votes to the stories now starting to get out about how corrupt he is (although it is front page news in the districts of the other congressmen on that list-- and I suspect that if Renzi was a Phoenix area congressman his corruption would be front page news too.) So we now have a chance to win here (although Renzi and his big money are still favored-- meaning that if we have a chance to win we have to all pull together to achieve it.)
We have five candidates running up here for the nomination to oppose Mr. Renzi. I blogged about a candidate's forum that we (the Little Colorado River Democrats and the Navajo County Democratic Party) sponsored in which four of the candidates (Mike Cacciopoli, Bob Donahue, Susan Friedman and Vic McKerlie) attended. Most of the friction involves the fifth candidate, Ellen Simon. On the day of the debate she was in Washington raising funds, but she did make the effort to visit our last meeting of the LCRD and speak to us, so I don't feel that she was specifically blowing us off. A number of questions were raised. She did not answer all of them to my satisfaction, but if she is the nominee then I will certainly support her in the general (in the interest of full disclosure, when I first wrote this post, I was an undecided voter, mainly because I was having trouble with the issue of whether my first choice would commit to endorsing the winner in the event that he didn't win. He has since said 'Yes,' he will (see comments) so therefore I am no longer undecided, and I now support and plan to work and vote for Mike Cacciopoli.) There are two very disturbing trends that I see however.
The first is that there have been cases of retaliation by some people against other people who don't support the same primary candidate who they do (and no, I'm not naming names because that's irrelevant to the substance of the problem. If you want gossip, then go to Wonkette). The fact is, we will need to be able to work together in November. Are there times when I have a disagreement, or even a chronic personality conflict, with other Democrats? Sure, that is true for everyone. But in the end I know that we have to work together. We are already outnumbered in Arizona, and we can't afford to start fighting with each other or throwing each other overboard. To retaliate against someone who is working for a candidate we don't agree with in the primary is petty, mean spirited and the sort of thing that we see happening a lot in the Bush administration (with the Plame case being the most glaring, but in no way the only example of it). I'd like to think that as Democrats we have a stronger moral character than to engage in those kinds of tactics. Anyone who has done this kind of thing does indeed have the moral character of George W. Bush.
The second is that some people have said publically that they might not support the nominee if it is one of the other candidates. This move by losing primary candidate Alfredo Gutierrez a few years ago (he luckily did eventually come around on it) nearly cost us the Governor's race. Just think how much different Arizona would be today had Matt Salmon been elected four years ago; for one thing he'd have signed that bill the legislature wanted to pass in Janet's first year that would have cut the budgets of schools and other state agencies by fifteen percent across the state and likely resulted in massive layoffs and salary cuts for already underpaid teachers and state employees (with a corresponding drop off in quality of service). Luckily, the concerns that a candidate who loses the primary might not endorse the winner appear to have vanished, and that is the best news I've had-- well in eight hours (since my wife, who's been unemployed for months thanks to the Bush economy, told me she now has a job).
Let me finish by clipping another part of the rant I put up on Tedski's blog:
No matter what you may think of a nominee, consider this then: If Republicans retain the house, then Denny Hastert is still speaker. Two more years of a rubber stamp Congress that will do as the President wants and give him his agenda on everything from Iraq to the budget. If Democrats gain fifteen seats, then Nancy Pelosi sets the agenda and George W. Bush will have to do something he has not had to do as President of the United States-- sit down with Democratic leaders in Congress and negotiate instead of getting his way all the time.
What if Democrats get less than fourteen seats? How many less will still be huge-- if it's very close then they may still be able to form a coalition on some issues with the handful of Republican moderates who remain in Congress-- at least forcing Bush to negotiate a little (the hard right just kicked another one out last week in Michigan in a primary). And if Democrats get more than fifteen seats? Every seat they get will strengthen the speaker's hand.
I know. I screwed this up four years ago. And all of you are paying for my mistake.