The White House decided to make personally certain that an unelected New York Senator with publicly-stated views on gun control and immigration contrary to the rest of her party was not challenged in the primary by a solidly-liberal Representative who is well respected in his caucus. This has caused a good deal of tension in the rest of the New York delegation:
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama’s effort to squelch plans by a New York congressman to run in next year’s Democratic primary against Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand apparently succeeded.
In fact, the president’s call to Rep. Steve Israel asking him not to run may rank as a pivotal moment in Gillibrand’s effort to hang onto her seat.
But Obama’s phone call also has angered members of the state’s congressional delegation, who see it as heavy-handed intrusion reminiscent of Tammany Hall party machine politics.
The behind-the-scenes maneuvering has the makings of a political soap opera with some lawmakers feeling pressured to endorse early, some dissatisfied with Gillibrand’s views on key liberal issues, and some too upset to even break bread together.
To begin with, this isn’t ‘Tammany Hall Machine politics.’ Your standard Tammany Hall machine politician would have sneered at the way that the internal conflict between the state and federal power structures ended up in the local papers. As a practical hint: you don’t start this sort of thing by telling a politician not to run. You start by seducing his supporters away, then have them tell him not to run. Sure, it costs more – but it also avoids newspaper articles with headlines like ‘Confusion, conflict mar Gillibrand’s run.’
But moving aside for the moment: right now, thanks to this administration’s heavy-handed intervention, it looks like about half of the New York Democratic delegation is lined up behind Sen. Gillibrand – and the other half is kind of resentfully, but diffusely, lined up against her. Looking it over, absent Rep. Israel in the race it doesn’t look all that likely that the opposition to the incumbent is going to coalesce into an effective primary battle; it’s early days yet to be making that sort of statement, of course, but New York Democrats are apparently now grumbling at the White House’s atypical interference in their internal affairs, not snarling. So, this gambit may very well work.
Which leads to the question, Why have the gambit in the first place? New York is a Blue state, and even if you don’t buy into the Democratic agitprop that all Blue states are going to be Blue forever it’s still not, say, Colorado. The conventional wisdom is that the winner of the Democratic primary in a New York Senate race is favored to win the general election: so the prospect of a contested primary fight should not be all that alarming to the White House. Particularly since conventional wisdom also says that the Democrats will have the wind at their backs for the next several decades. All in all, a liberal who is scratching his or her head over this sort of meddling from the President actually has a reason to: it’s kind of inexplicable.
Unless the administration itself doesn’t believe in the conventional wisdom? But if that’s true, it’s doing its allies in the legislature no favors by not mentioning that…’
Crossposted to Moe Lane.