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The bottom line: we helped a campaign that was the walking dead and gave it new life, pumped in resources, and made it competitive. We did much to even the playing field even if ultimately we came up tantalizingly short.

And yeah, I know "tantalizingly short", alongside "moral victories", is about as desirable as the Bubonic Plague. We want more. But this is a long-term movement, building from nothing. And we are sending notice to Democrats that they can't be Bush's bitch and expect a pass.

So we didn't kill off Cuellar, but we gave him an ass whooping where none was expected and made him sweat. That's the reason why Lieberman is sweating in Connecticut and lining up his dog and pony endorsement shows to flex his muscle. He can't take for granted that a no-name businessman with no political experience and zero connections in his state's political establishment will be a non-factor, not with what we've done for people like Dean and now Ciro.

Bowers has lots more, but on this point he notes:

Even on the Republican side, for all of their vaunted ability to run primary challenges against their sitting incumbents, the only real win they have against a federally elected incumbent is Sununu over Smith in New Hampshire in 2002. We may be 0 for 1, but they are 1 for 100. Primary challenges are almost always failures at the ballot box.

However, even in electoral defeat the Republican base has often succeeded in forcing some incumbents to start toeing the conservative line. If Cuellar becomes a more reliable vote as a result of this primary, then we will have succeeded anyway. If Cuellar makes fewer appearances with Bush, then we will have succeeded anyway. We won't know if that has happened right away, but we do know that even if things don't change, we can always run another primary challenge against Cuellar in 2008. Netroots electoral wins may seem few and far between (Chandler, Obama, Herseth, Dean for DNC), but the only way we are going to get more of them is if we keep trying.

If one of the problems we face as a party is lack of discipline from our elected officials, this is the way to start enforcing some discipline. Just the threat of being primaries could force some Dems to take a step back from certain votes, no matter how many lobbyists dangle scrumptious checks before their faces.

If we want to build the kind of Democratic Party we all yearn for, we can't let "Democrats" like Cuellar continue to burn our brand and harm the party. Doing something was better than doing nothing. We're a nascent movement a scant two years old. The Right built theirs over 30 years. We won't take over the world in two. But this netroots/grassroots/labor coalition is the blueprint for a more effective national progressive movement, and this was the first time we all worked together.

it won't be the last.

Update: Two more thoughts, spurred by an email Armando sent me -- if Cuellar had a Republican opponent in November, I would support Cuellar for the general. The time to fight for the soul of the party is in the primaries. Once the primaries are over, I'm happy to get behind whoever wins.

But for that same reason, it's important that primaries be closed. Independents and Republicans have no business meddling in internal party decisions (like they can in Texas). There's a worthy project for someone to take charge of -- which states have open primaries, and what is the process for closing them.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Wed Mar 08, 2006 at 09:58 AM PST.

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