But the election came and went, and instead, the moderate Democrat backed by at least one membership of House leadership punched his ticket to the general. Now, as progressives pick up the pieces, they’re struggling to figure out what lessons to take away as they move ahead with their plans to rid the Democratic Party of the candidates they think stand in the way of a truly progressive agenda.
On Tuesday night, 25-year-old former MoveOn activist Ilya Sheyman lost his bid for the Democratic nomination in Illinois’ 10th Congressional District, handing establishment Democrats their preferred candidate in management consultant Brad Schneider, and leaving the progressive groups that sponsored him reeling.
The race was a brutal one, and the acrimony between establishment Democrats and the progressive community was still simmering on Wednesday as Schneider and his supporters tried to pivot to the general election fight against freshman Rep. Robert Dold (R).
“Ilya’s opponent plastered the word ‘progressive’ on his ads and literature, claimed he was not a Blue Dog (even though he is), and adopted much of Ilya’s rhetoric about protecting Social Security and Medicare,” the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, one of several national progressive groups to back Sheyman, wrote in a post-mortem email Wednesday. “Last night was a victory for those trying to imitate progressives.”
On a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rep. Steve Israel (NY) made it clear there was no love lost on the establishment side of the race, either. Though the DCCC was officially neutral in the primary, Schneider carried the public support of top Washington Democrats and it was clear who the party machine wanted to run against Dold. The day after the primary, Israel urged progressives to get on board.
“If they want to continue to be represented by a congressman who’s going to end Medicare in order to fund tax breaks for oil companies, then, you know, they won’t be involved,” Israel told TPM on the call. “I’m confident that they don’t want to be represented [by Dold] and so I’m confident that progressives in that district will be just as energized as everyone else in that district. That district deserves a change.”
The national progressive groups are not likely to take Israel up on his advice. PCCC is still smarting and Democracy For America — the progressive activism group built on the remnants of Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential bid backed Sheyman early — suggested to TPM Wednesday that further action in IL-10 is not in their future, either. (The district leans even more Democratic after redistricting, so Schneider’s probably on solid footing even without the fundraising prowess of the netroots.)
It’s not clear whether Schneider would want the help. Progressives and Sheyman supporters on the ground in IL-10 suggested their tough primary fight had pushed Schneider to the left (the direction that progressive groups believe makes him more competitive.)
On a conference call, Schneider told TPM he hadn’t moved an inch despite the barrage of negative attacks from his left.
“I’m not going to move to the left in the primary, the right in the general,” he said. “I am who I am.”
So greater collaboration with the establishment is probably out following IL-10. But what lessons can progressives take away as they forge ahead? Here are a couple options.
Don’t Believe The Polls
Progressives were walking tall in the run-up to Tuesday’s primary thanks in large part to PPP polling commissioned by PCCC and MoveOn that showed Sheyman with a big lead. Scheider won by 8 points, which was an absolute shock to Sheyman supporters relying on the progressive poll numbers. PPP issued a statement Wednesday that took full credit for the polling snafu.
Progressives are scratching their heads.
“Was the polling off?” wrote the PCCC team before linking to PPP’s analysis/apology. “It could also just be that ‘likely voters’ didn’t show up.”
Polling is a tricky business, and PPP is a reputable pollster. But the next time progressives go playing in a primary, they’ll need to make sure they’ve got numbers they can rely on. And even then, they should know not to take them for granted.
Fight The Right Battles
Progressive groups, the PCCC in particular, have failed to defeat establishment candidates in more than one outing now. The Washington Post’s Rachel Weiner broke it down Wednesday:
The PCCC was heavily involved in the 2010 Arkansas Senate primary, backing Lt. Gov. Bill Halter against then-Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D). Halter lost. The group also predicted last summer that Democrats would retake the Wisconsin state senate, only to fall short by a single seat.
Some suggest progressives should set their sights on something other than taking on the Democratic establishment or entrenched Republicans like the ones they targeted in Wisconsin.
“[O]ur national groups think at the national level, and think state office goes to state groups, which is to our own detriment,” a “lefty strategist” told the Huffington Post Wednesday. “We don’t learn from what the other side has done, which is look at it as one giant chess board, and how we advance over the longterm.”
The PCCC dismisses the critics. “Many ‘strategists’ have a vested interest in criticizing the PCCC because we are trying to put them out of business — for ripping candidates off and teaching Democrats how to be weak and lose,” co-founder Adam Green told Weiner.
Convert The Netroots Into Grassroots
National progressive groups are really good at raising money online and creating national buzz. In the wake of IL-10 — where turnout was very low, suggesting voters were either turned off by the negative primary and/or the progressive base was not sufficiently roused with a get-out-the-vote program — some national progressives are calling for a greater focus on the mechanics of winning elections on the ground.
“When there’s long-term infrastructure and there are people on the ground a lot longer than two weeks or three weeks that we see great change and organizers can get the job done,” DFA spokesperson Linsey Pecikonis told TPM. “That’s not to say that wasn’t going on in Ilya’s race … but in terms of what we’ve learned, I would say the progressive moment has to rally around its candidates a little earlier and start building that infrastructure.”
Tom Kludt contributed.