Obama's Democrats dash hopes, resist change 

It's not just health care and the economy that President Obama believes are in need of more central control from Washington.

Obama is also working overtime to make the Democratic Party a command political economy.

This week, Ohio Democrats picked Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher to be their nominee for Senate. Fisher, who since 1981 has been rotating through elected offices and appointments to little effect other than his own incremental advancement, delivered an 11-point drubbing to Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner.

Brunner's crusade against alleged voting irregularities that liberals believe allowed George W. Bush to steal Ohio from John Kerry in 2004 made her a heroine to the left. She spent a career crusading as a plaintiffs' lawyer and a proponent of a criminal investigation of the Bush campaign. She campaigned across the state in an old school bus she called the Courage Express.

This is not someone who should cause headaches for a career politician twice elected statewide and endorsed by the sitting Democratic president. But Fisher could not close the deal. Brunner kept lingering because she had created an online network of liberal activists who were excited about the idea of electing Ohio's first female senator.

That's when the national Democratic Party hit the brakes on the Courage Express.

Fisher had burned through the $4 million he raised with the help of the Democratic Party and its top corporate partners and outspent Brunner by at least $1 million. Even so, the national party had to come in with a late cash dump to help its preferred candidate.

This is a national party led by a president who argued that tough primaries make better candidates. Of course he said that long ago and far away, when he was battling Hillary Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire.

But Obama's new Democratic Party jumped in with both feet for the corporatist, establishment candidate.

It was a similar scene in North Carolina.

Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, the first woman elected to statewide office, was battling Ken Lewis, a lawyer who gave up his practice to organize for Obama in 2008 and wanted to be the state's first black senator.

Incumbent Sen. Richard Burr is the only Republican in danger of being unseated this year because of tepid approval ratings in his freshman term.

So national Democrats recruited Cal Cunningham, a man of privileged upbringing who practices law at a multinational corporate firm, to run for the seat.

Cunningham fits the model developed by White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel for picking off seats in Southern and swing states: corporate friendly, Army reservist, state lawmaker and white dude.

But Cunningham still came up short. Marshall beat him by 9 points. But because Lewis did better than expected, now Cunningham and Marshall will face each other again in a two-way runoff.

Out in Indiana, Democrats did not even have a primary. Incumbent Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh announced he was quitting just days before the end of the filing period. That meant party elders could just pick one of Emanuel's 2006 recruits, Blue Dog, anti-abortion, white dude Rep. Brad Ellsworth.

It's understandable that Obama, like all presidents, would feel obliged to stand by incumbents facing primary challengers, as he's doing for Sens. Michael Bennet and Arlen Specter.

Bush did the same thing for then-Republican Specter in 2004 and for self-loathing Republican Sen. Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island in 2006.

Republicans paid a high price for those decisions in a dispirited voter base and a confused narrative. The GOP didn't seem to stand for anything except winning.

The speed with which the national GOP is so quick to jump out of contested races today -- like the Florida and Kentucky Senate primaries -- is a behavior learned from the bitter civil wars of the second Bush term.

Obama's Democratic Party is not only standing by incumbents but using a heavy hand in open seats.

Democratic turnout in all three primaries Tuesday was direly bad. With crude oil blurping up in the Gulf of Mexico, a health care plan that creates a cartel for insurance companies, a seemingly endless war in Afghanistan and weak prospects this fall, it's understandable.

Democrats claim they can excite their torpid base be recreating the Obama magic of 2008.

Odd, then, that the party is working so hard to squash the same kind of grass-roots energy that helped propel Obama's rise.


Chris Stirewalt is the political editor of the Washington Examiner. He can be reached at cstirewalt@washingtonexaminer.com.

About The Author

Chris Stirewalt


Washington Examiner Political Editor Chris Stirewalt, who coordinates political coverage for the newspaper and ExaminerPolitics.com in addition to writing a twice-weekly column and
regular blog posts.

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