Most major media in the United States has given up on covering politics as if it mattered. From talk radio to talk television to the Washington bureaus of too many of our dying newspapers, the coverage of the 2010 election cycle is framed in one of two ways:
A. A fight between conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats. B. A fight between conservative Republicans and Tea Party Republicans to decide who will get to vanquish the liberal Democrats in November.
What’s missing from this calculus is the reality that this is an exceptionally volatile moment economically, socially and politically in the United States — a moment so volatile that both major parties are experiencing unprecedented turbulence within their ranks.
The first partisan primaries, last month in Illinois and this week in Texas, have seen intense multi-candidate contests for key nominations on both sides of the ballot. Incumbents are facing fights within their own parties, open seats are attracting contenders from all wings of the two major parties, and independent and third party contenders are waiting in the wings.
This is a year that will be packed with ideological sparring and nuanced messaging on all sides.
It is absolutely appropriate, for instance, to highlight the Florida fight between Governor Charlie Crist and former state House Speaker Marco Rubio for the Republican nomination to fill an open U.S. Senate seat representing that state. Crist is a relative moderate who has actually had a few nice things to say about President Obama and who might serve in the Senate as someone seeking bipartisan agreement; Rubio is a hardliner who errs right on every issue. Their primary contest is a great one.
But it is not the only one.
In fact, Democrats will have as many serious primary contests for House and Senate seats this year as Republicans, and perhaps more. In California, for instance, progressive leader Marcy Winograd has mounted such a serious challenge to conservative Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman that Winograd is now being attacked by party leaders who are unsettled by the prospect that her anti-war, anti-Wall Street, pro-civil liberties candidacy might upset the incumbent.
Similarly intense contests have developed for Senate seats in Pennsylvania and Colorado, with incumbents Arlen Specter and Michael Bennet both facing tough challenges from credible challengers. (The Pennsylvania race between Specter and Congressman Joe Sestak is less of a left-right battle, especially since Sestak has tacked well to the right on foreign policy; but the Colorado contest offers a clear choice between a corporation-friendly centrist incumbent who polls very badly and a populist challenger, former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, who polls far better against Republican prospects.)