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The President did not always oppose primaries. In 2000, he ran against seated Dem Congressman. [View All]

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freddie mertz Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Jun-10-10 07:47 AM
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The President did not always oppose primaries. In 2000, he ran against seated Dem Congressman.
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Edited on Thu Jun-10-10 07:57 AM by freddie mertz
The President did not always oppose primary efforts.

Earlier this week, an "unnamed White House" official stirred up a bit of controversy by commenting to a reporter, in the wake of the failed primary effort of Bill Halter against Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas, that "Organized labor just flushed $10 million of their members' money down the toilet on a pointless exercise," the official said. "If even half that total had been well-targeted and applied in key House races across this country, that could have made a real difference in November."

In response, AFL-CIO spokesman Eddie Vale reminded the White House that "labor isn't an arm of the Democratic Party."

At Wednesday's daily briefing, WH Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked about the "down the toilet" remark, and responded: "I don't think that the President would necessarily agree with that characterization made by somebody here... I think we would certainly agree that we are likely to have very close elections in many, many places throughout the country in November. And while the President may not have agreed with the exact characterization, I think that whether or not that money might have been better spent in the fall on closer elections between people who cared about an agenda that benefited working families and those that didn't, that money might come in more handy then."

We may presume that the president agrees with the general spirit of the Gibbs/WH remarks, since they seem to jibe with a general opposition to primary efforts. especially at the Senate level, in "battleground" states like PA, Colorado, and Arkansas, where the WH has publicly supported the incumbents, even in getting into a bit of controversy over "job offers" presented to potential challengers.

It is interesting then to note, that a decade ago, the president himself ran in a primary against a sitting congressional Democrat, Representative Bobby Rush, a progressive-left Democrat and former Black Panther who has represented Illinois' First District since 1993. As the reasonably well-sourced Wikipedia entry on the future President's Illinois career describes it:

"In September 1999, Obama and fellow state Senator Donne Trotter both announced their candidacies for the March 2000 Democratic primary election for the U.S. House of Representatives seat held by four-term incumbent candidate Bobby Rush. Rush had been badly defeated in the February 1999 Chicago Mayoral election by Richard M. Daleywho won 45% of the African-American vote and even won Rush's own wardand was thought to be vulnerable. The support of some veteran Democratic fundraisers who saw Obama as a rising star, along with support of African-American entrepreneurs, helped him keep pace with Rush's fundraising in the district's most expensive race ever.

During the campaign, Rush charged that Obama was not sufficiently rooted in Chicago's black neighborhoods to represent constituents' concerns, and also benefited from an outpouring of sympathy when his son was shot to death shortly before the election. Obama said Rush was a part of "a politics that is rooted in the past" and said he himself could build bridges with whites to get things done. But while Obama did well in his own Hyde Park base, he didn't get enough support from the surrounding black neighborhoods. Starting with just 10 percent name recognition, Obama went on to get only 31 percent of the votes, losing by a more than 2-to-1 margin despite winning among white voters."

In retrospect, Obama's entry into the 2000 primary is considered a major misstep in an otherwise brilliant political career. As WP reporter David Ignatius put it (in an admittedly critical piece from 2008): "Obama's brash self-confidence led him into his only big political blunder. Prodded by the Daley machine, he challenged Bobby Rush, an incumbent Democratic congressman and former Black Panther, in 2000. Rush pounded Obama by more than 2-1 in the primary. "He was blinded by his ambition," Rush told the New York Times last year."

All of which has me wondering.

Given his own record, is it hypocritical for now-president Obama and his White House political organization to take such an aggressively pro-incumbent, anti-primary position in races across the the board in what certainly promises to be a challenging political season?

Or can we read the White House's strong opposition to challenges of this sort as a product of "lessons learned," rightly or not, from the president's own experience.

Or is my (admittedly tentative and unresolved) effort to suggest any sort of connection between this by now almost "ancient" history and the current political situation of no real relevance whatsoever?

I personally have no idea.

But I thought it might, potentially, make for an interesting (and hopefully flame-resistant) discussion topic.

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