Progressives Challenge Democrats In Primaries

Political primary season is upon us. Results reveal that incumbents are having a difficult time this election year, regardless of political party. Most of the attention has been placed on the Tea Party-like challenges to establishment Republicans, but some Democrats are facing challenges from the left.

Example one: Representative Jane Harman of Southern California has a primary challenger. Her name is Marcy Winograd.

“This is a people’s campaign for the people’s house. At this point in history, we can continue down the same path that is not sustainable or we can try something new, something fresh, something that will put America back to work in productive ways,” Winograd said.

Winograd is a teacher and long time progressive activist.

She first challenged Harman in 2006 but lost with 37% of the vote.

During an unsuccessful run for California governor in 1998, Harman said she is the “best Republican in the Democratic Party.”

Winograd said Harman is too conservative for California’s 36th district.

Winograd supports single payer health care and opposes the US’s current foreign policy. She abhors the war in Afghanistan and disagrees with Harman’s position on Iran.

“Jane Harman has not only said she supports sanctions… she also said… then we’ll have to consider military action. This is very dangerous language to use. This is language we need to take off the table,” Winograd said

Representative Harman and her office have failed to respond to repeated requests for comment and interviews.

Winograd is mounting a solid campaign against the second wealthiest member of Congress. She has the support of progressives around the country and has raised about $300,000, more than many primary challengers.

She is one of dozens of liberal Democrats challenging incumbents in the House.

Isaac Wood is the House Race Editor with Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball.

“There’s been a lot of threats of these challenges on the left, especially of Democrat Congressmen who voted against the health care bill,” Wood said

Though not all of the threats have materialized, some have.

And some challengers are doing better than expected as anti-incumbency fervor is hitting politics.

For instance, Last week in North Carolina, two progressive challengers received a surprisingly large proportion of votes – nearly 40% in both races. Both incumbents – Heath Shuler and Larry Kissell – voted against health care.

The Democratic party is backing incumbents.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday her members are aware of the challenges.

“There is no question at this moment there is an anti-incumbent mood.” Pelosi said she is telling her members to “assume nothing but don’t be dragged down by assumptions that might or might not apply.”

Some in tough races have decided not to run for re-election. Powerful appropriator David Obey and anti-choice Democrat Bart Stupak to name a few.

Meanwhile, politicos are watching a close Democratic primary in Florida’s second district in Tallahassee. State Senator Al Lawson is challenging conservative Representative Alan Boyd.

And in Georgia, a race that is being closely watched is Blue Dog Democrat John Barrow’s. He voted no for health care, which has resulted in a primary campaign lobed by former State Senator Regina Thomas.

Just as Republican primary voters tend to swing to the right of most voters, Isaac Wood says Democratic primary voters tend to vote more left.

“Whether these primaries will help or hurt the Democrats this fall, if you nominate someone who is more liberal in a district that is fairly conservative, that could backfire.”

Many of the more competitive primary challengers are in more conservative districts.

Primaries will continue on Tuesdays through the spring and into the fall.
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