IMMEDIATE RELEASE 20 November 2014
Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932
Warren and the center left
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
WASHINGTON – Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is increasingly becoming the voice of her party, a party that has now gone through several voice changes.
When Sen. George McGovern, D-S.D., took the party too far to the left, Bill Clinton, Al Gore and others formed the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) to move it back to the center. In fact, they moved it right of center and captured the White House, but it was not far enough to the right to hold onto ever more conservative red states.
Enter Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and her attempted DLC revival. The media dubbed it a “Hail Mary” pass when she persuaded Senate leaders to hold a vote on the Keystone Pipeline. The measure failed, and instead of showing how powerful Landrieu is in mustering the vote, it demonstrated her powerlessness in a Congress that will soon be dominated by Republicans in both the House and Senate.
Landrieu failed to reach the 50 percent threshold in the November election, and she now faces a runoff on December 6 against Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy. Polls show Cassidy ahead by double digits, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) pulled back from making a major TV advertising buy, telegraphing the expectation of Landrieu’s likely defeat.
The only thing giving Democrats hope is that Landrieu, who is 58 and vying for a fourth term, has won tough races before when the handicappers didn’t give her a chance. But this time appears to be different in the sense that she is fighting forces that are beyond her control, that are more about the broader dynamics in the South, where red states are getting redder, and conservative/moderate Democrats are an endangered species.
The Landrieu family has been an institution in Louisiana since at least the 1970’s when her father, Moon Landrieu, was mayor of New Orleans before he joined President Carter’s cabinet as HUD Secretary. Mary is the oldest of nine children; her brother, Mitch Landrieu, is the current very popular mayor of New Orleans, and a likely gubernatorial candidate.
How does a family institution like this lose? Well, it wasn’t unique in this cycle to Landrieu. Democratic Senator Mark Pryor in neighboring Arkansas lost to newcomer Tom Cotton despite the Pryor name and history in the state. Former Senator David Pryor, an icon in the state, campaigned for his son, but a respected family name isn’t enough these days to counter the antipathy many voters feel toward Democrats in general, and President Obama in particular.
Landrieu and Pryor sought to overcome this antipathy by running away from Obama and presenting themselves as Republican light with support for the oil and gas industry, gun rights and only tepid backing for Obamacare. As Democrats regroup after their November shellacking, some are asking the perennial question as to whether mimicking Republicans in red states is the right strategy, or whether Democrats – even in red states – should reclaim their party’s core message instead of pretending to be something they’re not.
It’s been said many times that voters given the choice between a real Republican and a fake Republican will choose the real thing. It’s not often said about Democrats that given the choice between a real Democrat and a fake Democrat, voters will choose the real thing. Maybe that’s because there aren’t any Republicans out there who are moderate enough to be confused with a Democrat.
Democrats are in search of a message that will re-invigorate their party, and bring voters to the polls. The one person speaking out in a way that can capture Democrats’ imagination is Senator Elizabeth Warren. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid last week created a position in the party’s Senate leadership for Warren to have a seat at the table as the party positions itself for 2016.
Warren has no immediate plans to run for president, but she represents the qualities that voters are seeking, and that is a clear and consistent message and a lack of fear about conveying it. Hers is a center-left message in a party where the center-right policies embraced by Landrieu and others failed to return Democrats to Washington. This is not a new fight for Democrats, but it’s one that has in Warren a forceful and plain talking advocate, which the party sorely needs.
© 2014 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND