Senator Hillary Clinton’s army of political aides, strategists and tacticians has spent an inordinate amount of time in recent months worrying about the Democratic primary challenge that their boss faces from anti-war candidate Jonathan Tasini. The Clintonites maneuvered mightily to keep Tasini out of the spotlight at the state Democratic convention in May. They did the same when the small but influential Working Families Party pondered its endorsement. They discouraged Democrats from supporting the petition drive that eventually got Tasini’s name on Tuesday’s Democratic primary ballot. And they made it clear that Clinton would not join any debate that included Tasini.
None of this is particularly inappropriate. Incumbents aren’t usually inclined to aide their challengers. But the extra effort by the Clinton camp with regard to Tasini, a relatively unknown labor activist who got into the race without much money or many prominent backers, illustrates the extent to which the senator and her high-powered staff fear the main thing that Tasini has going for him: clear opposition to an unpopular war that Clinton has consistently backed.
On the eve of the primary, Clinton’s team was still spinning against Tasini, spreading the word among Democrats and pundits that they did not expect–and certainly did not want–to see the challenger win more than a single-digit percentage of the vote.
In setting such a low bar for Tasini, however, the usually-savvy Clinton camp could be misjudging the depth of anti-war sentiment among the Democratic electorate, and the extent to which Tasini may have tapped into it.
It should probably come as no surprise that Progressive Democrats of America, the energetic national grassroots group that has had the guts to push the Democratic Party to back a timeline for Iraq withdrawal and to support moves to impeach President Bush, is backing Tasini’s run.
PDA is all about pushing the envelope in a party not known for taking risks and thinking big. And PDA activists in New York–who have formed a half dozen chapters around the state — well understand that the best way to get a message to Clinton before she starts campaigning for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination is in the 2006 Democratic Senate primary. The same goes for the three New York State chapters of Democracy for America — the group founded to maintain the spirit of Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential run–that have endorsed Tasini.
Perhaps even more significant is the support that Tasini has earned from the “reform clubs” of New York City.
Among the groups backing Tasini in his campaign to hold Clinton to account in the September primary are the Village Independent Democrats, a reform political club with roots going backto the days when Eleanor Roosevelt and Adlai Stevenson were its allies andmentors in struggles to break the grip of Tammany Hall on New York Cityelections. Also backing Tasini are New York City Democratic clubs such asthe Downtown Independent Democrats, Brooklyn Democrats for Change, CentralBrooklyn Independent Democrats and the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, agroup named for a legendary gay rights activist that was formed to backDemocrats who are strong defenders of LGBT rights.