Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Rahm Emanuel, the corporate-friendly centrist who actively worked against a number of anti-war progressives in 2006 Democratic primaries for US House seats and then refused to support at least some of those candidates in November, is handing his DCCC leadership position off to Chris Van Hollen, a congressman who has a dramatically better track record on foreign and domestic policy issues.
Emanuel, the former Clinton administration “fixer” who organized support for the North American Free Trade Agreement and other Wall Street-favored policies and who then went to Congress as a pro-corporate, pro-war Democrat, has tried to spin his management of the DCCC during the 2006 election cycle as a success. In fact, many of the Democrats who prevailed on November 7 did so despite the Illinois congressman’s efforts, not because of them.
In primaries from California to New Hampshire, Democratic voters rejected Emanuel’s hand-picked candidates and nominated progressives who went on to win in November. Indeed, while candidates such as Illinois centrist Tammy Duckworth, who had Emanuel’s full support, were going down to defeat, the list of breakthrough winners included contenders such as New Hampshire anti-war candidate Carol Shea-Porter, who never got any support from Emanuel or his DCCC team.
While Emanuel was an effective fundraiser and a reasonably good strategist in some close races, no one should doubt that he worked the 2006 cycle wearing ideological blinders. And that caused him to make choices with regard to key races that erred on the side of candidates who shared his White House-friendly views against candidates who adopted more progressive positions–and who had more grassroots support.
Could Democrats have won additional seats in 2006 with a different DCCC chair–one who not only knew how to raise money and had a good strategic sense, but who was willing to support candidates who tapped into the anti-war and anti-free trade sentiments that ran so strong this year?
For that reason, it will not just be progressives who welcome Emanuel’s exit.
At the same time, there is every reason to be enthusiastic about the choice to replace him: Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen.
The new head of the DCCC has a far steadier record of opposing the Bush administration on the war in Iraq, on the Patriot Act and other civil liberties concerns and on economic policy. Van Hollen also knows a thing or two about running in a primary against high-profile candidates with lots of national support and money. Before ousting a Republican incumbent in the difficult 2002 election cycle, he won a Democratic primary against Mark Kennedy Shriver, a member of the Kennedy clan who, seemingly, had most of the advantages in the race.
Van Hollen is not a perfect player. But he is far more in touch with the values of Democratic voters than Emanuel ever was. And he is far more likely than Emanuel to support candidates based on their ability to win — rather than their willingness to muzzle their message so as not to offend Wall Street and the foreign-policy hawks in Washington.
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