Down in the Polls, Dems at War with Themselves
Their party's big-government policies have proved, to their surprise, to be highly unpopular.


Michael Barone

Intraparty civil war. It’s a storyline journalists often employ, though usually about only one party, the Republicans.

Thus when three-term senator Bob Bennett failed to get enough votes at the Utah Republican convention, we were told that he was the victim of a purge by right-wing activists, despite his largely conservative record.

That was a legitimate story, and I tend to agree that Bennett was a constructive member of Congress who will be missed. And there will be more of these stories as the years go on, as tea-party activists challenge politicians they regard as establishment Republicans.

But the real civil war this year is going on in the Democratic party — and it is going largely unreported.

One reason is that it is not a clear-cut battle between two easily identifiable forces, like Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Potomac. Rather, it resembles the guerrilla conflicts of the Civil War in Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma, with local self-starters scurrying about in all directions.

So, in this month’s primaries, we saw a skirmish between Arkansas Senate incumbent Blanche Lincoln and Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, who suggested but did not quite promise he’d support the card-check bill that would effectively abolish the secret ballot in unionization elections — and whose campaign received something like $1 million from unions. That race will be decided in the June 8 runoff.

Another incumbent challenged on the left was Utah’s Rep. Jim Matheson, who got only 55 percent in the Democrats’ state convention and could lose the June 22 primary to a supporter of the health-care bill.

Pennsylvania Democrats rejected party-switcher Sen. Arlen Specter, supported by the Obama White House, in favor of Rep. Joseph Sestak, who has a longer record of supporting Obama policies — but who after the primary declined to identify himself as an “Obama Democrat.”

The Democrats’ one big victory, the Pennsylvania 12th special election, was won by a pro-gun, anti-abortion, anti-health-care-bill, anti-cap-and-trade candidate. That platform sounds more Republican than Democratic.

Their big defeat came in the Hawaii 1st special election, when the Democratic vote was split between supporters and opponents of the machine headed by Sen. Daniel Inouye, now in his 51st year as a member of Congress. Democratic factionalism may help Charles Djou hold onto the seat in the fall, in the one state that has never denied reelection to an incumbent member of Congress.


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