Election Battles Are Over; Let the Infighting Begin

By Zachary A. Goldfarb
Sunday, November 19, 2006

Democrats wasted no time in turning on one another after winning control of Congress this month.

First, civil war broke out among House Democrats in picking a new majority leader. Now, James Carville, the Democratic operative who helped catapult Bill Clinton to power, has lashed out at Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean.

The former Vermont governor poured large sums into state and local party-building across the country, but his strategy was not popular with Democratic strategists and elites in Washington, who favored spending to try to maximize victories in House and Senate races. Dean clashed repeatedly with Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), who chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, arguing that it was necessary to lay the groundwork for the 2008 presidential campaign as well as take control of Congress. The nasty debate seemed to cool after Emanuel and Dean struck a deal for the DNC to spend millions on voter turnout.

When Democrats picked up House seats Nov. 7 in unlikely places such as Kentucky and Indiana, Dean felt his strategy was vindicated. But Carville disagreed, comparing Dean's performance to failed Pentagon war strategies.

"I would describe his leadership as Rumsfeldian in its incompetence," Carville said at a post-election forum, according to news accounts. Carville asserted that the Democrats could have won more seats in the House than the 29 they have picked up thus far had a shrewder party leader been in place. He noted that Dean took out a large loan for the party but failed to spend most of it, while there was a great need for money in some close congressional races.

"He should be held accountable," Carville said. "Do we want to go into '08 with a C-minus general at the DNC?"

Dean's camp was not happy and showcased a bevy of letters from state party leaders defending the chairman. DNC spokeswoman Karen Finney called Carville's comments disappointing, "in light of historic Democratic victories all across the country, up and down the ballot." She added that Carville, a political pundit and TV personality, "simply doesn't know the facts about what the DNC did in this election."

At a gathering of the Association of State Democratic Chairs in Wyoming on Friday, Dean defended his record. "This is the new Democratic Party," he said, according to the Associated Press. "The old Democratic Party is back there in Washington; sometimes they still complain a little bit."

Emanuel has steered clear of the intraparty feud. He and Dean spoke late last week to discuss how they could further develop party organizations in key states, according to DCCC press secretary Sarah Feinberg.

Invested in Politics

As if we needed another reminder, recent disclosures documented the powerful influence of special-interest money on elections.

According to campaign fundraising data released shortly before this month's midterm elections, labor unions provided substantial support for Democratic challengers who won House seats, while lawyers provided vital support to the new Senate Democrats.

Baron Hill, a former Democratic House member from Indiana who was returned to office by voters this month, raised nearly $700,000 from political action committees through Oct. 18, more than any other Democratic challenger who won, according to PoliticalMoneyLine.com. Newly elected House Republican Peter Roskam of Illinois raised more from political action committees than any other Republican, taking in nearly $1 million. His biggest supporters were conservative groups and the finance and insurance industries.

On the Senate side, Democratic freshmen-elect Robert P. Casey (Pa.), Benjamin L. Cardin (Md.) and Sherrod Brown (Ohio) raised roughly $1 million each from political action committees.

Another report, by the Center for Responsive Politics, showed the limits of what wealthy political challengers can accomplish by spending their own money. Forty congressional candidates spent more than $500,000 of their personal wealth, the center said; 23 of them made it to the general election, but only six appear to have won.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company