Rough Road Ahead: November Looms As Progressives Question Priorities (VIDEO)

There’s no doubt about it, things aren’t looking good for November for the Democratic party. It’s way too early to know if they will lose the House, but there is broad agreement that 100 days from now, there will be losses and Democratic numbers in Congress will dwindle.

On the ground in Las Vegas for the last several days, TPM took the temperature of Netroots Nation activists, the candidates courting them for dollars and door-knocking and the official party operatives who need progressives engaged if they want to prevent a total wipeout this fall. Most campaign types sounded hopeful notes that it won’t be as bad in the end as it looks now, and there seems to be broad agreement that, if the races are put into the context of the idea that Democrats move forward and the Republicans want to take you back to the Bush era, they might just stave off the worst of the losses.Members of Congress bemoaned the possibility that Obama could end up a one-term president, and activists applauded loudly during a long speech from MSNBC’s Ed Schultz, who suggested the White House has a “sissy room.” At the same time, Van Jones told the group to ease up on Obama and give him time. The president, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid implored the progressive community to believe that they, too, are frustrated with a stalled agenda.

Many of the attendees of Netroots Nation seemed to fall somewhere in between Schultz’s tough talk and Jones’ high-minded entreaty. Everyone TPM spoke with said that the party would be unwise to take progressives for granted this fall.

“If the base doesn’t show up that’s a problem,” Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) told TPM. “We can’t forget the engines that drove these voters to the polls in 2008. If there are dire consequences it’s because we didn’t do enough, not because we did too much.”

Another theme that emerged was progressives think the Democrats did not go far enough with the good things they accomplished, like health care and Wall Street reform. They agreed that, while that may be a bummer, the Republicans want to roll even those smaller gains back.

That’s why the Democratic campaign types we interviewed stressed the importance of contrast with Republicans.

DSCC Executive Director JB Poersch lasered in on Republican candidates — especially Rand Paul in Kentucky — who give the party renewed chances to win in states that looked dim a few months ago.


The DCCC’s executive director Jon Vogel highlighted similar contrast in our interview, saying John Boehner is getting ahead of himself in measuring the drapes with three months to go before the election. (Poersch agreed with that, saying that Scott Brown’s win in Massachusetts in January “created a level of hubris” within the GOP’s Senate political operation.)

Vogel told TPM that, even though progressive ideals won’t be represented on every ballot this fall, the party needs “all allies on the playing field.” No matter what flavor of Democrat the activists might be, they need to consider what the Democrat in the race stands for compared with the Republican, Vogel said.

“They have a pretty scary agenda,” he said.


But as we noted earlier, some political operatives remain wary of the paint-your-opponent-as-crazy strategy. They admit that’s not enough tow in. Netroots attendees seem to agree, with 74 percent of straw poll respondents saying they want a focus on jobs to be the “highest priority” for Obama and Congress.

Other party operatives said that they genuinely fear the enthusiasm gap that shows Republican voters are more motivated this year. That’s why they were courting progressives to get them to hang in there.

Pelosi told the crowd, “We couldn’t have pushed open that gate without you,” and said several times, “I need your help.”

DNC executive director Jen O’Malley Dillon acknowledged in an interview it’s a tough environment, but said that the party knows they need to be constantly “making the case” for Obama’s agenda and reminding voters “what they had at stake in ’08.” She also thinks polls showing the Democrats are in trouble aren’t reflecting the true environment in part because it’s so early in the cycle and because they don’t yet reflect much of the “neighbor-to-neighbor” work the party has been doing with those Obama voters they’ve continued to engage since he won the White House.

Take a look at these candidates, all in very different races across the country. Each takes a different approach.

Tarryl Clark (D-MN) received a surprising amount of netroots attention given that she’s running for a House seat held by an incumbent for two terms. But it’s her rival that draws the interest — Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) who was addressing a conservative convention as Clark wooed progressives at Netroots. Attendees voted in a straw poll that the Clark-Bachmann race is among their top priorities.

But for all her progressive attention, Clark said she’s considering joining the Blue Dog Democrats if elected this fall in the 6th Congressional district. She’s not a huge fan of the health care bill. Watch:

Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias (D-IL) is running for Obama’s old seat in a state that’s had a rough ride given the Blagojevich trial. He’s campaigning on a government reform plan he says will “unclog” a “broken” Washington, and like Obama, refuses money from lobbyists and federal political action committees.

The president is going to Illinois next month to campaign for Giannoulias, but he stressed repeatedly in our interview he’s his own man. Watch:

Meanwhile, Rep. Paul Hodes (D) has completely embraced Obama in New Hampshire, a perennial swing state where he’s running for the open senate seat held by Republicans nearly two decades. “I see people who are fired up and ready to go,” Hodes said, adding that those first-time Obama voters are crucial his efforts.


Miss any of our Netroots Nation coverage? See it all here.