Monday, November 06, 2006

Looking Past Tuesday: The Big Tent Hangover

2004 was a watershed year for Democrats in Connecticut. Record voter registration signaled a resurgent passion for politics, this was the year that Democrats were going to come together and send new Democratic congressional candidates to DC and send John Kerry to the Whitehouse. Democrats were finding each other through meetups and well after the presidential primary, the party was united behind Kerry and the rest of the ticket. Except that it didn’t turn out that way. Although Kerry won CT with 54% of the vote, Shays, Johnson and Simmons retained their seats and Kerry didn’t win nationally.

Heading into 2006, Democrats had more to unite them. The intervening years had provided flashpoints, certainly ignited action, whether it was the supreme court nominees the Bush administration sent, or the conduct of the war, or the push to privatize social security, Connecticut liberals were motivated to do something big.

The aftermath of that something big, is what the big tent party will have to weather after the election. This past summer had the distinction of two hotly contested primaries, one achieving national interest, the other echoing the same split between liberals and moderates. When it turned out that the primary for the senate race only served as a preview of the general election, the stress points of the party had little chance to heal. Nationally, those tugs in opposite directions will play out in public sound bites, but in Connecticut those tugs will be most apparent in the local town committees.

I spent some time with Democratic State Chairwoman Nancy Dinardo to discuss what she saw ahead. While she is enthused with the energy she sees, she's cautious about just how to keep the big tent from ripping apart. The views held by the liberal take-no-prisoners wing are very different from the moderate let's-win-the-election wing. Both sides have an agenda claims the same goal, but different ways of getting there. Dinardo appreciated that there is much passion driving all the campaigns, and said “I hope that passion stays within the party and that people know we have a job to elect Democrats all the time.”

Dinardo will just have to get them to start talking to each other instead of shouting at each other. The harshness of the spat is not unique to the blogs. The first step is to get both sides to acknowledge that they are all in fact Democrats.

“Regardless of who wins the race, I want to make sure everyone stays a Democrat and that we all come together as Democrats and work towards first 2007 and also 2008. I don’t want to lose, in fact I am really thrilled how the party has become energized. And I do really attribute that to Ned. I didn’t think that was going to happen, I don’t want to lose those people, and I don’t want to lose the people who supported Joe Lieberman either.”

But keeping all that passion focused on positive actions will not be an easy task. Some within the party have moved to threaten people with expulsion from the party for reasons as simple as who they supported during this campaign. Dinardo was firm, “Do I feel we should be throwing people out of the party? No. I have always believed that the Democratic party is the party of the big tent.”

Recognizing opportunities and acting upon them is one of the hallmarks of a good leader. Dinardo has been quick to identify party building activities. “When we saw that the primary was starting, we sent out 30,000 brochures to cities and towns throughout the state and wanted people to register to vote. Many people came in because of the war. It’s my goal to encourage local town committees to keep expanding those numbers.”

Despite the high unaffiliated numbers, Dinardo sees opportunities to expand the appeal of the Democratic party at the local level. “A great town committee is active, they participate in their meetings, they participate in all elections, not just presidential and gubernatorial, they participate in local boards and commissions.”

“There’s a lot of momentum that’s happening which is mostly reaction to Republicans, we have a Republican president and Republican congress who have really shaped the direction of the country, and it’s a terrible direction and people are realizing it.”

But momentum alone is not enough to keep party members active. She thinks that more needs to be done to take advantage of technology and to keep communication flowing freely.

She has encouraged local party leaders to participate in forums she’s held to work through the logistics of how to expand the party and how to stay involved. In previous meetings over 120 cities and towns represented, and she hopes to attract more in the next one early in 2007. “It’s important to talk about what is going on and what direction the state party should be taking,” she explained. “it’s all ages and all view points.”

Dinardo encourages communication. “A great town chair is a person who is open to all suggestions, who’s willing to listen but be able to be a leader and willing to do all the jobs in the town committee. Communication and outreach are the two most important part of the job.” Dinardo knows that its up to the local parties to change the temperature of the friction.

As the national spot light fades away, the next campaign season will start without the high intensity of federal races. In 2007, the municipal elections will return the focus to the issues that drive local campaigns, and Dinardo hopes that the passion for politics that engaged so many will carry on.


Gabe said...

I don’t want to lose the people who supported Joe Lieberman either.

It's going to be tough not to lose those people, considering that the majority of them are not, in fact, Democrats.

Also, there will be a depth of anger to be dealt with if Lieberman wins, runs a Republican-centric GOTV, and takes down one or more of the congressional challengers.

Anonymous said...

Both parties need to heal wounds and build a stonger base. Both parties suffer from tugs from within. There is far too much disconnect in Connecticut.

Anonymous said...

Big tent party? Are you kidding me? You just kicked someone out for not agreeing on one issue!!!

Gabe said...

Anon 11:28 - We didn't kick anyone out, we had an election and he lost. In general terms, that is usually called democracy.

Gabe said...

Reposted from the thread below, because it belongs here

I don't know how much [the rift] really matters. (Assuming he wins) Lieberman doesn't come up again for six years and he most likely retires then anyway.

Generally speaking, they way we decide the moderate v. Liberal split is with primaries - you may notice that the other primary this year did not explode into a intra-party civil war.

I really don't see this as a problem going forward.

G-BuryMan said...

It turns out the R's have a bigger tent. Look how the RNC helped Chafee beat the conservative.

Anonymous said...

What will be equally interesting is if the Republican party can actually start to develop some bench strength-- or if it will continue to be a one woman show.

If the three inbumbent Congressmen lose, that would leave Rell, an untested Fidele, and a few strong state senators (e.g., McKinney, Capiello).

But if the Republicans hold on to the house seats (Shay and Simmons are both potential future governor or senate candidates) and build some young strength in the state senate (Russo, Debicella, Caliguiri), they could come out of the election with a decent bench.

Gabe said...

It turns out the R's have a bigger tent. Look how the RNC helped Chafee beat the conservative.

No political calculation there at all...

Anonymous said...

The RNC dumped a lot of money into Chafee simply because he had a real chance against Whitehouse, whereas Laffey clearly did not. Now that Chafee appears to be a lost cause RNC support and money has dried up as well.

And it goes both ways. The same principle applied in Ohio with Sherrod Brown getting the nod over Paul Hackett. The guy with the best chance to win gets the support and ideology takes a back seat.

The Democrats have become increasingly pragmatic, supporting moderates to conservative dems such as Webb, Tester, Ford, and Casey. And Howard Dean's "50 State Strategy" appears to be paying rich dividends.

Anonymous said...

To anyone who is promulgating that supporters of Lieberman are democrats, who have somehow lost their way, I challenge that declaration.

Supporters of Lieberman are REPUBLICANS, and people who are happy with the war and the status quo, who place their "trust" in a corrupt man who is as distant from Connecticut as Saturn. Lieberman has more in common with Nancy Johnson, Chris Shays and Rob Simmons than any democrat I can name.

It's time to clean house. It's time for Connecticut to return to its national bellwether status and throw this Lieber-bum out! The country is watching.


Anonymous said...

"The country is watching."

Yes- And they will see the states votors run KOS-kiddie Ned Lamont out on a rail.

To try to spin the primary results as some sort of mandate is a joke considering only 14% of the states votors went to the polls.

Gabe said...

To try to spin the primary results as some sort of mandate is a joke considering only 14% of the states votors went to the polls.

Given that this primary, despite being in August, was the highest turnout primary in state history, this is an argument for doing away with primaries all together.

After all, if the highest turnout primary in state history is illegitimate because only 14% of the state's voters went to the polls, aren't all primaries illegitimate? What is the percentage of the state's voters in a normal primary?

And drawn to its logical conclusion, what about low turnout general elections? Are they illegitimate as well?

turfgrrl said...

gabe: Or it's a call for open primaries where unaffiliated can chose to vote in a party primary, I think RI had that.

Anonymous said...

If Nancy has an ounce of integrity left she'll resign on Wendsday.

Since I was told She has already promised Liebermans GOTV operation the 4 o'clock ripsheets from the polling stations in Trumbull I doubt she does.

Anonymous said...

Assuming Lieberman wins, I won't be happy, but I'll get over it. If, however, one or more of the Murphy-Farrell-Courtney troika loses in a close race (a result that will be directly attributable to Lieberman's GOTV efforts directed at GOP voters), I will never, ever forgive him.

Anonymous said...

12:40; DiNardo won't resign if integrity is the issue.

Shadow said...

Big tent Republicans? Ha.

Chaffee is the last liberal Republican in federal office, and he's gone.

The Democrats never kicked out Lieberman. He lost their primary, but he was still a Democrat until he quit the party so he could run again. That the Republicans are trying to turn this into a "small-tent Democrats kick out Lieberman" argument is laughable. The Democratic party does have serious problems (such as not supporting their own candidate enough in this race), but they are undoubtedly the bigger tent out of the two major parties.

Just a reality check from an independent voter.

Anonymous said...

Ned Lamont is a liberal McCarthyite. He and his supporters are intolerant of centrist Democrats. I cannot wait for him to lose tomorrow. Then maybe he and his untrue ads will go away.

Anonymous said...

Without Ned Lamont Shays,Simmons and Johnson would have had a cakewalk to victory.

Liebermans loss of the primary gave them the freedom to run as anti-war candidates without the ball and chain of Lieberman.

Anonymous said...


The Ct Republican Party wishes it had the problems the CT. Democratic Party has.

When the CT Republican Party makes dinner Reservations it tells the Hostess it will be for, "A party of one."

Anonymous said...

Wow, libs relying on a FoxNews poll. The world has ended.

Anonymous said...

"Or it's a call for open primaries where unaffiliated can chose to vote in a party primary"

Bingo- Why should 7.9% of CT voters determine who is the Dem primary winner when the largest voting block (44%) in the state isn't allowed to vote in the primary?

Revenge of the unaffiliated votors.. Tuesday.

Face it- The dem party abandoned Joe, not the other way around.

J.F.K. would not recognize his party if he was still alive.

Shadow said...

Yeah, and I'm sure he'd also join you in bashing his brother Ted Kennedy. It's amazing the hypothetical constituency you can build when you claim dead people are on your side.

> Bingo- Why should 7.9% of CT voters determine who is the Dem primary winner
> when the largest voting block (44%) in the state isn't allowed to vote in the primary?

Over 300,000 voters voted in the primary. That's over 15% of the almost 2 million voters in CT, not 7.9%.

And did you just make the argument that the Democratic party shouldn't be able to choose their own nominee because independents are excluded?

First of all, independents were not excluded. They could temporarily switch to D as soon as a few days before the primary in order to vote in it; I know because I did this myself. The only people that couldn't switch to D a few days beforehand were Republicans like yourself (a law designed to prevent parties tampering in each other's primaries), and your attempt to apply your experience to unaffiliated voters is misinformed.