If you have been on this web site a (very) long time, you probably remember the 2006 Lamont / Lieberman senate race.
If not, you almost certainly don’t, so here is a very brief summary.
- At the time, activism in the Democratic base was largely centred around the Iraq War. By 2006, the bottom had fallen out on the ground but not entirely in public opinion. (Mainly because 9/11 was much more proximate.)
- Joe Lieberman was a conservative to moderate Democrat who was an enthusiastic Iraq War supporter and close to George W on foreign policy. He was challenged in the primary by Ned Lamont, presently the governor of CT but then an obscure local politician.
- Lamont won the primary, but Lieberman ran in the general as an independent and won relatively comfortably — about 50% to 40%.
There is an interesting story here, that, to some degree still plays out in the form of the current Supreme Court. I don’t want to focus on that here.
What is more relevant is that presumably Krysten Sinema has been thinking about Holy Joe recently. Her move to go indy is clearly designed to preempt a primary, which she’d almost certainly lose. (I don’t really buy her policy protestations, since she doesn’t really have policies.)
Anyway, I think there are some key differences between Sinema 2024 and Jomentum 2006 that are worth writing down.
- 2024 is a presidential year. This means that Sinema will be running with either Trump or some very MAGA Republican also on the ballot for President. So her pitch will be that you should vote for her, essentially, to work across the aisle with the alt-right criminals behind Jan 6. Lieberman had the advantage of not having to run alongside George W, whose popularity was plummeting.
- Sinema’s position is very weak. The main rationale among the base for supporting a potentially divisive primary is that Sinema is very unpopular by her own doing, so she’d probably lose the general anyway. The rationale for challenging Lieberman is that any Democrat was overwhelmingly likely to win in a heads up race against a Republican, so taking him down would mean an important policy shift.
- Moderate Democrats don’t really like Sinema either. This is, essentially, a variation of the previous point. Current moderate thought, tends to emphasise the idea of trying to centre the median voter’s interests in various elections and sticking to popular basics like wage growth for everybody and choice. Moderates think that Joe Manchin is a conservative Democrat from a conservative state whose heterodox ideas support the state’s main business (which is resource extraction). Sinema, on the other hand, is basically an intersectional wokester whose heterodox ideas are unpopular tax cuts for the rich. Democrats have a normal liberal to put up in Ruben Gallego, who is not going to try to Putin-Latinx his way to victory. Again, this is very different to 2006 when Lamont held the more avant garde (but correct!) profile.
- Republicans also don’t like Sinema. They will definitely field a maniac like Blake Masters or Kari Lake. Probably actually one of them. That person will get at least 45% no matter what. Lieberman had the advantage of the Republicans fielding a nominal candidate who got less than 10% of the vote.
The bottom line is that SInema’s move is unlikely to play out in a way that gets her reelected, even if things like that have happened before.