It’s pretty safe to say the progressive blogosphere is saturated with endless commentary and cheerleading about the August 8 Connecticut Primary involving Joe Lieberman and Ned Lamont. But a very interesting runoff election will occur that same day in my old stomping grounds, the 4th Congressional District of Georgia. The inimitable Rep. Cynthia McKinney will face little-known Dekalb County Commissioner Hank Johnson, who stunned observers by denying McKinney a majority in the July 18 primary (she won 47 percent to Johnson’s 44 percent, with a third, anti-McKinney candidate taking the balance of votes). And from what I’m hearing, it ain’t looking good for the fiery lefty veteran.The rumor down in Dekalb is that Johnson is raising enormous sums of money for the runoff, some of it, no doubt, from Jewish Democrats who have always resented McKinney’s outspoken pro-Palestinian views. (The night before McKinney lost her seat in 2002 to primary challenger Denise Majette, her father, then-state Rep. Billy McKinney, told a television audience that Cynthia’s only problem was spelled “J-E-W-S.” In a nice touch of irony, McKinney pere lost his own legislative seat the next day, in a huge upset, to a Jewish primary opponent.) McKinney has never been much of a fundraiser, and the voting patterns in the primary led a lot of observers to conclude that her once-legendary GOTV prowess is not what it used to be.Aside from money, McKinney has two big political problems. The first is that Georgia has no party registration, and her notoriety may tempt some of the district’s small but significant Republican electorate to cross over; so long as they did not vote in the Republican primary on July 18, which had a very low turnout, they are free to do so. Indeed, McKinney blamed her 2002 loss to crossover voters, though the size of her defeat indicated she lost a majority of Democrats as well.But her bigger problem is her weakness among the district’s large and growing African-American middle- and upper-middle-class population. They represent the political fulcrum of Dekalb County, and are much more likely to turn out for a runoff than the poorer black voters who have always served as McKinney’s base.Given her situation and her personality, I’d expect some real fireworks from McKinney between now and August 8. She has always been fast to play the race card (viz. her immediate suggestion that her recent dustup with a Capitol Hill cop was motivated by racism and sexism), and the fact that her opponent is a fellow African-American won’t deter her. Indeed, she won her first primary back in 1992 in no small part by charging that her two African-American opponents were puppets of the state’s white political establishment.And there’s no question she will allege a conspiracy to purge her from Congress. McKinney loves conspiracy theories the way a drunk loves a belt of Ten High before breakfast. Her suggestion that perhaps the White House had advance warning about 9/11 and deliberately let it happen helped paint a political bullseye on her back in 2002. And on this latest primary night, even as Cynthia was line dancing with her new friend Cindy Sheehan in front of the cameras, her staff and supporters were muttering darkly about a Diebold Conspiracy orchestrated by Secretary of State Cathy Cox to shift votes from McKinney to Johnson. (You’d think if Cox had the capacity to manipulate votes this way, she might have stolen enough votes from Mark Taylor to keep the Big Guy from narrowly winning a majority against her in the gubernatorial primary, eh?).But my guess is that McKinney has finally run out of luck. She got back into Congress in 2004 thanks to an extraordinary stroke of luck: Denise Majette’s abrupt decision, shocking her own staff and certainly dismaying supporters who knew McKinney was mulling a comeback, to abandon her seat and launch a doomed Senate campaign. (In a side note, Majette has launched her own comeback effort, winning the Democratic nomination for state school superintendant).The word back home in 2004 was that McKinney had learned her lesson, and though her views were as lefty-lefty as ever, she kept a much lower profile on the campaign trail, and in Washington–until the little incident at the metal detectors in the Cannon Building. For the record, I think the whole brouhaha was ridiculous, especially the serious consideration apparently given to indicting McKinney for biffing the Capitol Hill officer with her cell phone. But it served as a reminder to many of her constituents that she remains a bit of a loose cannon in Cannon, and gave Hank Johnson the opening he needed to take advantage of the large if latent anti-McKinney vote.In any event, even as every hep blogger in Christendom obsessively follows the vote count in Connecticut on August 8, Georgia will be very much on my mind. No matter what happens, I’ll relish the returns from my old neighborhood in Stone Mountain like a Varsity chili dog. Maybe McKinney will find a way to save her career one more time, but I personally doubt she and Cindy Sheehan will have much to dance about that night.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
With the clock running down and real problems emerging on the legislative front, the president is beginning to meet with key congressional Democrats representing different factions. At New York I took a shot at suggesting what he needs to get them to understand:
We have breathlessly been told by all the Beltway insider outlets that Joe Biden has summoned various congressional Democrats to the White House in hopes of saving his 2021 legislative agenda, which is on the brink of disaster thanks to the irreconcilable demands of competing factions. For once, the eternal “Democrats in disarray” narrative is accurate. On September 27, the House is scheduled to vote on the Senate-passed infrastructure bill, a vote rebellious House “centrists” extorted from Speaker Nancy Pelosi in order to get the votes for a must-pass budget resolution. They are quietly backed by rebellious Senate centrists. Multiple House progressives, who have their own cheering gallery in the Senate, are promising to kill the infrastructure bill if it comes up before the fiscal year 2022 budget reconciliation bill is enacted, which won’t happen for weeks. The one sure thing is that if this transpires, House Republicans will make certain there are not enough votes for the bill in their ranks to save it.
This is a BFD!
Biden should find some way to recycle his famous words to Obama about Obamacare.
The success or failure of the governing coalition Democrats managed to secure in 2020 (and in those two crucial Senate runoffs in 2021) is about to be determined by what happens in the next few days and weeks. If they fail, there will be no tomorrow, no Plan B. Next year will be a lot like 2010, when Democrats lost the ability to pass legislation against Republican obstruction and then got clobbered at the polls. It took them eight years to recover from that debacle. Another one could be staring them in the face.
Biden remembers that, and so do many Hill veterans. He needs to impress on them that this is no time to listen to hammerheaded pollsters or greedy donors or Twitter activists. Like it or not, Biden has defined the paired infrastructure and reconciliation bills as central to his presidential legacy and to his party’s case for maintaining power. He needs to make every Democrat tempted to sabotage either bill feel that his failure would be theirs as well, whether or not they lose their own seats in 2022, which some undoubtedly will if the Biden agenda implodes.
The posturing needs to stop
Obviously, the president must acknowledge and show respect for the fact that legitimate differences of opinion exist in his big-tent party. But lawmakers posturing and grandstanding in order to get a shout-out at Politico as big-time wheeler-dealers are not legitimate or worthy of respect. Biden needs to challenge congressional Democrats very directly on this: Let’s go a week without any name other than mine and Nancy’s and Chuck’s appearing in the national political media. If they are questioned about intra-Democratic negotiations, they should refuse comment, go vague, or say “watch and learn.”
Why is this important? Because the centrist-progressive (and on some issues House-Senate) dynamics are reciprocal and virtually guarantee escalation. A ceasefire in factional hostilities requires some peace and quiet.
Public demands, threats, and hostage taking must end instantly
Whether it’s centrists placing some arbitrary “cap” on the size of a reconciliation bill they can accept or progressives making their votes for reconciliation contingent on inclusion of this or that priority, the proliferation of absolute and totally irreconcilable demands is what has really brought congressional Democrats to the brink of disaster.
Biden needs to show Democrats he understands how and why this is happening: It’s mostly the result of the extremely small margin of control in both Houses — which in fact, objectively speaking, gives every senator and every group of a few House members the power to destroy their party’s agenda. In the past, if that had happened, leaders might have been able to offset intraparty hostage taking by securing votes from the opposition. That’s just not practicable in the current environment. Even on the so-called bipartisan infrastructure bill, Republicans are now making it clear they would love to see it go down to defeat and will work to produce that outcome.
But while expressing empathy for the temptations facing individual members, Biden has to insist that the public demands and threats stop right now and promise with whatever cold anger he can muster that there will be real consequences for those who go rogue at this sensitive moment. Successfully negotiating the size and shape of the reconciliation bill, for example, is going to be excruciatingly hard if the landscape is constantly shifting because Problem-Solver X or Progressive Caucus Y has laid down some personal marker through a press release or a staff leak.
There’s one plan, and we’re all sticking to it
With the clock running down on the endgame for the 2021 legislative saga, Biden and his closest congressional allies really need to adopt a strategy and demand universal support for it right now, even if that means some backtracking by congressional factions. If the infrastructure bill is going to be salvaged, Biden has to bluntly tell progressives the days of “linkage” between reconciliation and infrastructure are now over: The infrastructure bill will be on the House floor next week and it has to pass. But at the same time, Biden needs to tell centrists that while he and Pelosi and Schumer will listen to everyone’s point of view on reconciliation, he needs commitments of support now for the final product, and to threaten permanent ostracism by the entire federal government (within the limits of the law) for anyone who refuses to comply.
In asking Democratic factions and individual members to give up their leverage over one another, Biden will supply his own leverage to keep the party united. It’s probably the only thing, at this point, that will work. And what does the president have to lose in making some exceptional promises and threats of his own? He’s a 78-year-old man who has spent nearly a half-century putting himself in the position to enact the kind of legislative package that is at stake right now. If he loses it, his presidency will at best be hollow and short, and his party will go into the wilderness. Only he can stop that from happening.