By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
I wrote my column this week (which you can read first in our digital weekly edition) on the drive for ideological purity that is infecting both political parties. Specifically, I noted, MoveOn.org got pledges for more than $1 million before the big healthcare vote to support primary opponents for Democrats who voted against the new law. My point was that if a political party has pretenses toward being nationally competitive, it must have some philosophical flexibility. Policies popular in New England might be politically untenable in the South, and vice versa.
That, I argue, is why liberals' drive to end Blanche Lincoln's senate career is ultimately self-defeating: If they manage to nominate a strong liberal the likely result is a reliably conservative Republican being sworn in next January.
So the question for MoveOn and other liberal groups is: If they do in fact back primaries against apostate Democrats, who will they gun for?
Talking Points Memo put together a nice chart displaying the partisan tendencies of the districts represented by the 34 Democrats who opposed the healthcare bill. Eight came from districts that Barack Obama won in 2008, though of that eight, half were in districts that generally trend Republican anyway. The other 26 represent districts that McCain won and that have a Republican tilt to them. In some of these latter cases, that tilt is extreme: Gene Taylor of Mississippi and Chet Edwards of Texas each represent districts that McCain won by 35 points and have a 20 point GOP tilt overall, according to the Cook PVI rating (which looks at how the district has performed in the last couple of presidential races as compared with the national average).
It seems to me that someone like Massachusetts Rep. Stephen Lynch, whose heavily Democratic district Obama won by 22 points is ripe for a primary challenge (he was "forgainst" the healthcare bill, the Boston Globe's Brian McGrory quipped today) and may get one. Ditto Illinois Rep. Dan Lipinski, whose district Obama won by nearly 30 points, and whose "no" vote "confounded" his colleagues, according to the Chicago Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet. But primarying someone like Taylor or Edwards strikes me as self-defeating. If they are conservative Democrats, it's because that's the kind of Democrat that can get elected in their district. Before trying to make an example of a member like that, they should ask themselves if they prefer having Speaker Nancy Pelosi running the House agenda or Speaker John Boehner?
Which brings us to Sarah Palin. She yesterday unveiled 20 Democrats she's targeting for 2010, with the criteria being members in districts McCain won who voted for the healthcare law. (Smart: They're vulnerable, and she can claim their pelts if they go down, regardless of the extent to which she helps with their defeats.)
So we know that the big guns will be coming after the red district House yeses from the right. The question is whether the red district House nos will be similarly targeted from the left. Stay tuned.