Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who introduced Garamendi, told her rank-and-file that Republicans attacked New York Democrat Bill Owens on health care during his own victorious special election campaign, but Owens still won.
Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, backed up that assessment, telling his colleagues in the closed-door caucus meeting, "Our agenda was at play in those races, and they won."
Democrats in conservative districts need to understand that the vast bulk of the Democratic platform is very popular. The country supports guaranteeing that no one goes bankrupt because of health care costs. Stopping health insurance companies from denying people for pre-existing conditions is supported by nearly every American. The public option is extremely popular. The vast majority of American back repealing “don't ask, don't tell.” Very few regular Americans honestly thinks we don't need new regulations to rein in Wall Street. Reforming the student loan program so that the same amount of money can be more efficiently used to help millions of additional middle class students afford college is a sure winner with a preponderance of voters in this country. Even the Republican party is now claiming allegiance to the Democratic goal of reducing our dependency on foreign oil.
The fact that the Democratic agenda is popular is not some accident. It is very popular by design. Less popular ideas that used to be part of the Democratic agenda, like gun control, have either been dropped, scaled back, or pushed to the side. The Democrats have been out of power for so long that they are not pushing the truly controversial ideas championed by the country's left. They have plenty of very popular parts of their agenda that will consume their time for years to come.
No Democrats, regardless how liberal or conservative, should be expected to back every part of the agenda. But conservative Democrats need to at least support some of the most popular core planks of the party platform--for their own good. They need to explain why they are Democrats, and why their constituents should vote for a Democrat. If conservative Democrats try to run purely as Republican-lite next year, the voters are going to ask themselves why they shouldn't just support real thing.