WASHINGTON -- For the second time in as many days, a progressive-minded politician who is either out of office -- or soon to be -- has had to deny that they will be launching a primary challenge against President Obama in 2012.
On Wednesday, a spokesman for Sen, Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) clarified that the just-defeated senator has "no interest in challenging President Obama in 2012" despite hinting at advancing his personal political ambitions that year. On Thursday, former DNC Chair Howard Dean, likewise, was forced to respond to rumors that he would lead an inter-party uprising by taking on Obama in the next presidential election.
It's become a customary feature of the political press to begin speculation about the upcoming election cycle the day after one just ended. And certainly, there is enough palpable angst among progressives to wonder how the president will cope with his base.
But the back-to-back airing of will-Obama-be-primaried stories did strike some, including two former members of the Dean camp, as a bit suspicious.
"I do think that there's some chatter on the right about that as a way to sort of weaken the president," said Karen Finney, a longtime Dean confidant. "The left is definitely frustrated, no doubt. Health care, they were disappointed about. Don't Ask Don't Tell, there were other issues. The White House is going to have to deal with that. I don't think that means he gets a presidential challenge, though."
"The notion that Governor Dean or Senator Feingold are going to mount a primary challenge to President Obama is nonsense," said Kombiz Lavasany, an online communications hand at the DNC during the Dean years. "It was a notion dreamed up by two right-wing columnists (John Fund and Bill Kristol) and regurgitated by Roger Simon at Politico for mainstream consumption. It's really just the latest reminder that if Kristol and Fund are giving you the inside scoop about politics, especially Democratic politics you're wasting your time listening to them."
Speculation of a Feingold presidential bid was primarily the senator's own doing, as his post-loss decree to continue fighting "in 2012" struck many as having political undertones. The Dean rumors, however, seem traceable to two sources, a piece written by The Wall Street Journal's John Fund and a column by Roger Simon in Politico.
The Journal is home to many of the more influential conservative thinkers in the country and it's not far-fetched to think that its inhabitants would find pleasure in seeing civil war among Democrats. With respect to Politico, however, the motives seem more professional than political. Despite having spoken with Dean the morning after the 2010 elections, the evidence to suggest that he might make a run for president was flimsy, as Salon.com pointed out. The piece even quoted the former Vermont governor saying: "Nobody is going to beat him [for the nomination] in 2012... All that would do is weaken the president."
So why make the leap that a primary challenge could be in the offing? Because, well, it results in pieces like this, which, in turn, drive traffic and conversation and, invariably, lead eyeballs back to Politico. Dean, after all, was forced to respond after the item was brought up repeatedly on cable.
"But what does Roger find in his interview to suggest that Dean is actually considering challenging President Obama for the Democratic nomination in 2012?" "Morning Joe" host Willie Geist asked another Politico staffer, Mike Allen, on Wednesday morning.
"There's not a chance in the world that Howard Dean is going to beat Barack Obama," Allen replied. "But a president who does get challenged -- and look at Carter in '80 by Sen. [Ted] Kennedy -- gets beat up, gets weakened, and that's why, Roger says, the Obama team is watching this."