October 27, 2015

Democrats’ Senate Primary Woes Aren’t Going Away

A Politico report on the Illinois senate race reveals how Democrats have been hampered by a “surprise primary” between Rep. Tammy Duckworth and well-connected Chicago Urban League President Andrea Zopp, who is running to Duckworth’s left and getting support from President Obama’s Chicago-based donors and allies.

DSCC Chairman Jon Tester griped publicly about Zopp’s primary challenge:

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has endorsed Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran and a double amputee. But the party knows it must tread carefully so as not to alienate progressives and black voters, whom Zopp is trying to appeal to for support.

“The primary could be a problem,” said DSCC Chairman Jon Tester of Montana. “Certainly Andrea’s a nice person, but Tammy’s going to perform better in a general.”

“A nice person”? Sen. Tester might as well just call her “likable enough.”

In Ohio, another key battleground, the national Democrats’ best efforts at ignoring P.G. Sittenfeld, who is mounting a liberal challenge to establishment favorite Ted Strickland, continue to be thwarted by Sittenfeld’s media-friendly persona and positions on key issues that excite the Democratic base.

National Journal’s Chief Political Correspondent Alex Roarty detailed Sittenfeld’s outsider appeal in an extended profile piece published this week:

Sit­ten­feld is also up against the powers that be in his party: Both the Ohio Demo­crat­ic Party and the Demo­crat­ic Sen­at­ori­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee have en­dorsed Strick­land, who they be­lieve has the best chance to de­feat Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Rob Port­man.

And yet, Sit­ten­feld—who looks young enough to still get carded in bars—has de­fied calls to end his cam­paign. In­stead, the Cin­cin­nati city coun­cil­man has vowed to show that Demo­crat­ic voters prefer a fresh face who bet­ter re­flects an in­creas­ingly young, di­verse, and urb­an party.

Strickland has been lagging behind expectations in fundraising, so any dollars he’s forced to spend on the primary is extremely problematic for his campaign.

In what has become a trend this election cycle, contests where establishment Democrats expected to anoint their chosen candidate and move straight to a general election footing are devolving into ugly and unpredictable primary battles.