When Democrats campaigned on bringing change to Washington, D.C., in 2008, they probably weren’t thinking about their own Caucus.
But now that Democrats not only have a majority in Congress as well as control of the White House, several longtime Members could be prime targets for primary challengers in safe districts.
At least two Democratic incumbents, Reps. Sander Levin (Mich.) and Allen Boyd (Fla.), have already attracted primary opponents who have established political pedigrees. And many more Democratic politicians who are term-limited out of local office could look to continue riding President Barack Obama’s wave of change to Congress in 2010.
Democratic media consultant Julian Mulvey said he expects to see other established primary challengers pop up over the course of the election cycle. He noted that the country has voted increasingly for Democrats in the past four years, creating opportunities for candidates that weren’t there before.
“The value of winning a Democratic nomination has increased tremendously,— Mulvey said. “Secondly, you have this movement of change that has awakened all kinds of segments of the Democratic Party.—
But other party operatives are more skeptical. Mike Fraioli, a longtime Democratic fundraising consultant for several high-ranking Members, noted that it’s going to be difficult enough to raise money to run in the current economic climate. What’s more, Fraioli added that the age argument is often not a successful one in campaigns.
“If one of your prime motivators is the incumbents’ age, that’s not a prime reason to run,— Fraioli said. “The reason they’ve been around is because people vote for them.—
Fraioli said that in many cases, state legislative term limits are the driving force behind a primary challenge to a sitting Member — as is the case with opponents against Levin and Boyd.
State Sen. Mickey Switalski (D) announced over the weekend that he will challenge Levin. According to a local report of his announcement, Switalski called for a changing of the guard.
“We can’t continue with the status quo. We need to make changes. I have the energy and fresh ideas to accomplish this,— Switalski, 54, reportedly told the audience at his announcement.
Michigan political analyst Bill Ballenger noted that in most cases when a politician uses the word “energy— in his speech, he or she is “implying that the incumbent is old and tired.— But Ballenger added that this is not the case with Levin, who aides say is energetic and at 77 is far from being the oldest member of the famously aged Michigan delegation.
“I don’t think there’s any indication that Sandy Levin is running out of gas,— Ballenger added.
It’s possible that some primary challengers might be looking more to 2012, when redistricting changes will take effect, than to 2010. Michigan is slated to lose a seat because of declining population.
“It’s clearly uphill,— Ballenger said. Switalski “may be positioning himself to run in 2012, depending on where the district lines are drawn.—
After all, Switalski is term-limited out of office in 2010 and has nothing to lose between now and when the district is redrawn. Nonetheless, Levin released a poll that showed him clobbering Switalski, 62 percent to 14 percent.
“The poll with the 48 point lead and very high favorability throughout the district speaks for itself, so when it comes to the 2010 election, I look forward to asking voters and receiving their continued support,— Levin said in a statement.
In Florida, state Senate Minority Leader Al Lawson announced that he plans to challenge Boyd. Like Switalski, Lawson is term-limited out of his job next year.
“There are term limits for legislators and I always thought there should be term limits for Members of Congress,— Lawson told the Tallahassee Democrat. “There needs to be a fresh approach.—
At least one Democrat successfully challenged an entrenched incumbent in 2008 on the change argument. Now-Rep. Donna Edwards (Md.) defeated eight-term Rep. Albert Wynn in the primary, but it was her second try at the seat after losing the primary to Wynn in 2006.
Wynn wasn’t the only one with a primary from a younger Democrat in 2008. Rep. John Lewis (Ga.) faced two credible primary opponents last cycle, and could face more in 2010.
Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) also had a primary challenge, from Kevin Powell, an activist who is best known for his appearance on the reality show “The Real World.— Towns defeated Powell by a 2-1 ratio in the primary, but could once again be the target of another primary challenge in 2010.
Over the years, incumbency has proved a powerful tool, so while there is the possibility that more Democrats could face competitive primaries in 2010, there is no guarantee a greater number of challengers will be successful running on a message of change.
Just ask Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), who a decade ago faced a primary challenge from a little-known state Senator named Barack Obama. The president lost to Rush by a 2-1 ratio.