THE BLOG

Denver Post: Obama Aide Messina Caught "Trying to Buy Off" Primary Challenger

09/27/2009 03:51 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I've made my position on the Emanuel administration's attempts to crush Democratic primaries pretty plain: Beyond it being a disgusting effort to crush the kind of local democracy Barack Obama used to make Rahm Emanuel president, it also makes Democratic legislative unity even tougher to achieve. Additionally, the aggressiveness of the effort reveals a double-standard: The Emanuel administration that categorically refuses to twist the arms of congresspeople to pass legislation is the same Emanuel administration that is more than happy to break the arms of Democratic primary candidates.

As I said in my last column, that's the power-worshiping, incumbent-protecting country-club etiquette at work: Just like, say, Tim Russert would ask upstart presidential candidate Howard Dean much tougher questions than sitting Vice President Dick Cheney, President Emanuel is willing to punch those outside of D.C., but not those inside.

Now, the Denver Post gives us a sense of just how hard those punches are being thrown. The front-page Sunday story details how President Emanuel dispatched former Max Baucus aide and current Vice President Jim Messina to, as the Post says, "try to buy off" former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (D) with a job before he announced his primary challenge to appointed Sen. Michael Bennet (D).

There's probably nothing illegal about this -- although you can't really say that for sure. Let's not forget that Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was indicted and impeached for allegedly trying to horse-trade jobs for senate seats. But legal questions aside, it shows that while President Emanuel may do nothing to stop insurance and pharmaceutical companies from writing health care legislation, he's going to do everything he can to make sure that incumbents are not bothered by local primary challenges -- even those that might create a dynamic that helps pass President Emanuel's legislative agenda.

The danger for President Emanuel, of course, is that the big foot strategy may backfire, especially out here in the West:

"It may make the situation worse for Bennet for them to play the game this way," said state Rep. Kathleen Curry, a Gunnison lawmaker who is supporting Romanoff.

"People in Colorado have an adverse reaction to the external forces coming down and telling them how to think," she said.

The timing of Messina's latest intervention sparked particular concern -- because of the appearance that the administration was trying to buy off a nettlesome opponent, to some; to others, because the timing made the effort appear so ham-handed.

As I've said, I have no dog in the primary fight -- I just want to see local democracy be allowed to run its course. Like Barack Obama said on the campaign trail, primaries and local democracy strengthen the Democratic Party. Unfortunately, President Emanuel and Vice President Messina don't subscribe to that belief.