Progressive "Accountability Now PAC" Will Target Wayward Democrats in Primaries

They're not a liberal Club for Growth—they swear. We'll see.

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By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

A bunch of prominent liberal activist groups and blogs have formed a new PAC which aims to "use primaries to hold incumbents to account," according to the group's press release, challenging "vulnerable members of Congress who side with corporate interests instead of constituents."

When Republicans were ascendant, groups like Club for Growth aimed to start weeding out insufficiently conservative lawmakers, targeting them in primary races. The strategy worked in a sense: There are certainly few moderate Republicans left standing.

So is Accountability Now PAC, as the new group is called, a liberal version of that strategy? They insist not. We'll see.

"It's not the Club for Growth," Firedoglake.com founder Jane Hamsher, an Accountability Now co-founder, told me. "We're the opposite of Club for Growth. They have a strict ideological position that they try to impose on races despite what the district looks like."

This is the critical part of Accountability Now's mission: The extent to which they truly do try to back candidates appropriate for their districts. Democrats have built congressional majorities not by trying to support a specific type of candidate but by looking for people whose views reflect their constituents'. Pushes for ideological purity end with cohesive minority parties—ask the GOP.

Hamsher said that Accountability Now will support conservatives "as long as they're not using the fact that they're a conservative quote-unquote as an excuse to represent the interests" of corporate lobbyists over their communities. The group plans to "hire local bloggers to give us lists of people in their communities who are strong leaders who they respect who we should be looking at for higher offices." These local bloggers and, presumably, political activists will make the call as to whether elected officials are being responsive to their communities or to K Street lobbying interests.

This sounds fine in theory, but activists (including bloggers) tend to skew to their party's wings—it may be that the local bloggers' views of the appropriate way to represent a congressional district are more liberal than is the reality. Or not—we'll see.

And they don't plan on backing an political kamikaze missions, they say; they need to see that the insurgent candidate has a chance. "We're obsessed with polling," DailyKos founder Markos Moulitsas told ABC's "The Note."

So who's in the group's cross-hairs? Hamsher said that they don't have anyone in mind yet; that it's impossible to say now what the critical issues and votes will be in six months. She pointed, naturally, to the example of Joe Lieberman as someone who was so out of step with his constituents (pro-war in an anti-war state) that he had to be taken down. He won in the end, of course, but, she said, "that had a big influence on the party at the time because in 2006 the group-think" was that you could not run as an anti-war candidate. Lamont lost, she argued, but liberated other Democrats to stand up on the war.

She also pointed to Donna Edwards, the Maryland congresswoman who defeated then-Rep. Al Wynn in a Democratic primary last year. Democratic and liberal blogs and activist groups coalesced around Edwards, jacking up her fundraising power. This is the model Accountability Now hopes to follow, Hamsher said; the group will give some direct contributions but their greater power will be focusing the attention of the progressive online community.

Salon.com's Glenn Greenwald is another co-founder of the group, and Moulitsas will poll while 538.com's Nate Silver will do analysis, according to this Huffington Post piece. It has also gotten support from MoveOn, the SEIU, DailyKos, the black activist group ColorOfChange.org, Howard Dean's Democracy for America, 21st Century Democrats and BlogPAC.

But while she said there are currently no targets, she did give an unsurprising nod in a specific direction: "You've got a lot of Blue Dogs in the center who have become the new recipients of K Street lobbying money" and have gained a great deal of influence as the center, swing votes. (Blue Dog Democrats are a congressional coalition of conservative and centrist Democrats.)

Again we'll see how this all plays out in the breach. If it becomes a progressive purity test aimed at Blue Dogs, it could spell self-immolating trouble for the Democratic coalition. But in fairness, the progressive online community is talking the right game and they've been smarter than they are often given credit for in terms of understanding the importance of not looking for candidates from an ideological cookie cutter (see Sens. Jim Webb and Jon Tester).

Hamsher said that the group has raised about $500,000 and has budgeted for $1 million. (As of the end of 2008, according to their FEC filing, they had raised $171,329 and had $105,424 in the bank—I've called them a new group but they formed last June but only now are stepping up the publicity.)

This whole exercise has the potential to be a fascinating exercise in "Netroots" muscle—the question remains whether that muscle will be wisely flexed. We'll see.

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