The Democratic purge and the Obama conundrum
Wednesday, May 19, 2010; 8:11 AM
Last night two centrist Democratic incumbents failed to stave off challenges from the left in Democratic Senate primaries. Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter was defeated by left-wing challenger Rep. Joe Sestak. And Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln was forced into a runoff by her left-wing challenger Gov. Bill Halter. But don???t hold your breath waiting for commentators to decry these shameful efforts at the ideological purification of the Democratic party. When Sen. Bob Bennett is challenged from the right, it is an ideological purge. But when centrists like Specter and Lincoln are challenged from the left, it???s democracy in action. Lincoln barely survived, but she now faces a strategic question: Does she ask President Obama to campaign for her in the runoff, or does she keep her distance from the Democratic president? She???d be wise to choose the latter. Obama???s endorsement seems to be the political kiss of death these days. First it was Creigh Deeds in Virginia, then Jon Corzine in New Jersey, then Martha Coakley in Massachusetts, and now Specter in Pennsylvania. The White House will try to distance itself from Specter (indeed, it began doing so days ago when Obama and Vice President Joe Biden reneged on theirs promises to campaign for him). But there is no getting around that this was a repudiation of the president. He ushered Specter into the Democratic party and embraced him ??? and voters rejected his chosen candidate at the polls. The lesson for Democrats was clear last night: Obama offers to endorse you, run the other way.