Dem Senate Upsets: Voting Out the Weak Links?

Depending on how the elections go today, the spinmeisters will work their story-telling magic in various ways. If Joe Sestak wins in Pennsylvania and Sen. Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas fails to gain more than half the vote, forcing her into a runoff against challenger Bill Halter, some will push the narrative that liberals are purging their party, just like Republicans. But that’s an oversimplification that does not fit reality. Let's not forget the primary victory by conservative Democrat Mike Oliverio in West Virginia last week. This is not a purge over ideology but over honesty. It is not reckless anger, it is pragmatism.

Arlen Specter is not a moderate or even conservative Democrat. He was a Republican for decades. He endorsed and was endorsed by George W. Bush. He was instrumental in advancing the Bush agenda. He did switch parties, but not because he had a great ideological conversion. He switched because he was desperate to remain a Senator no matter what. After the Republican Party rejected him, Specter figured Democrats would embrace him the moment he flip-flopped on dozens of positions. This behavior is not “moderate” or “centrist” but proof of the desire to hold on to power. This lack of conviction is at the heart of the anti-incumbent, anti-Washington, anti-establishment mood of the country.

If Blanche Lincoln fails, it’s not because she’s a centrist. She doesn’t even stand with the Democratic Party on procedure votes. She promises constituent groups that she supports bills they care about, only to reverse herself once the legislation threatens the profits of corporations. On her own website, she claimed to support a public option on health care.On the floor of the Senate, she trumpeted that she’d filibuster any bill that included it. Lincoln also flip-flopped on the labor priority of EFCA, opposing it after voting for it in 2007.

Lincoln is now dedicating her time to providing the ultra-wealthy with a huge tax break that would add $250 billion to the deficit. During an economic downturn, she fights to make sure that rich heirs to large estates face a lower tax burden. This tax cut would not help 99 percent of the people of Arkansas. Lincoln’s focus on helping the rich has made her extremely unpopular in her state.

Neither Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania nor Bill Halter is a hard-core progressive. They are simply Democrats who believe in the general principles of the party. They don't have a history of saying anything and doing anything to hold on to office.

Both Lincoln and Specter are bad choices in this anti-Washington, anti-establishment election environment. Sestak and Halter poll as substantially better candidates against the likely Republican opponents. They both have a better chance of keeping seats in Democratic hands. They’re slightly more in line with Democratic beliefs, and they increase the odds of a Democrat winning. You can't call it a "purge" when voters are making what should be considered the strategic, smart decision.

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