Analysts have advised Republicans to go easy on Barack Obama, daunted by his personal popularity. Apparently, Democrats in New York have no such qualms. After Obama intervened to keep a challenger out of the primary against incumbent Senator Kirsten Gillibrand for a special election, the state’s Congressional delegation have begun muttering about Tammany Hall-style tactics:
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.
Some delegation members say Gillibrand made things worse by calling fellow Democrats and citing White House support as a reason to endorse her.
This is the analog to the Republican consternation over the Florida Senate race, with Obama playing the role of the NRSC. Gillibrand is a moderate, but by next year, the midterm winds may be blowing hard against the White House, and Obama will need Gillibrand rather than a die-hard liberal in that Senate race. The numbers still favor Democrats on paper, but already Obama is losing ground on key issues, and if the economy doesn’t recover significantly, all that debt will look like a very bad bet.
Still, that’s the kind of decision that should be left to New York Democrats, and not the White House. Unlike the Republicans in DC, though, Obama isn’t spending his time making a case for federalism. His interference in the primary at least corresponds to his top-down policy preferences. One can’t accuse Obama of hypocrisy on that count, although his election rhetoric of changing the way power gets used in the Beltway doesn’t exactly make this a model for his supposedly new, transparent, fresh-air era.
If Democrats can push back against Obama, maybe Republicans can find their testicular fortitude as well.