Those who were paying attention to politics yesterday, were probably watching the fascinating death struggle in Utah, between ultraconservative Senator Bob Bennett and a pack of seven vicious teabaggers trying to displace him... for not being extreme right enough. Since Obama became president, Bennett is one of only 16 senators with a ZERO rating on the key ProgressivePunch ranking. But--like most Republican senators--Bennett had gone along with George Bush's demands for the October 2008 no-strings-attached Wall Street bailout. This season that vote galvanized the Utah teabaggers against Bennett. Many political observers wondered how that will play out in races for other Republicans who voted the same way: Richard Burr (NC), Chuck Grassley (IA), Arlen Specter (PA) and John McCain (AZ), the most likely to suffer for it. However, while this high profile morality play was playing out for the Republicans, the Democrats were involved in their own struggle worth noting.
A hearty band of awesome Democrats there put their collective foot down and prevented anti-health care Blue Dog Jim Matheson from winning the party endorsement at yesterday's convention in Salt Lake City. No more South Park jokes for me. Matheson is one of the most reactionary Democrats in Congress, consistently crossing the aisle to vote with the Republicans on key issues. Since Obama was elected, his ProgressivePunch score-- a dismal 35.37-- has been identical to those of two of the most unsavory of the Old South Blue Dogs, John Barrow (GA) and Mike Ross (AR). And, like Barrow and Ross, he left the Democratic Party to vote for the anti-choice Stupak Amendment and against health care reform. Now Utah Democrats are sick enough of the ten-year incumbent to say no.
Sensing that retired school teacher Claudia Wright was making headway, Matheson put in a hysterical call begging Steny Hoyer to fly out to Salt Lake City to save him. Hoyer did fly out, and begged and cajoled delegates to vote for Matheson, but ultimately failed to secure the party endorsement for him. He came up 5% short of the 60% needed.
Wright, a retired high school teacher and college gender-studies instructor, fought a spirited campaign at convention to assure delegates she is electable in a district that Matheson's backers said is too conservative for her. Liberal Salt Lake City Democrats had chosen her to challenge Matheson after his vote against the health care reform bill, pushed by President Barack Obama.
Wright went room-to-room in the morning caucuses at the Salt Palace Convention Center telling delegates that Republicans have become so radical in their nominating process that some of their party members will consider Democrats, including her.
"The Republican Party has moved so far right that those Republicans who are moderate are seriously considering becoming Democrats," Wright said in the morning to the Stonewall Democrats, a gay-rights caucus.
"This election belongs to whoever can get voters out to vote," she said.
..."I get it," Matheson told the crowd, not long after dozens of them had held up signs for his opponent and chanted, "Wright for Utah!"
"You're angry about some of my votes," he said, drawing some ironic applause. "But I'm a Democrat and I'm here to tell you I don't run from that label, because it's in my blood."
Wright also was battling a powerful Matheson advocate in U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD). He said Matheson had invited him to Utah, and he came to help re-elect him and keep the Democratic majority in Congress.
Hoyer made a pragmatic pitch to delegates, saying that only Matheson can win in the moderately conservative 2nd Congressional District and that he is important to the majority even if he doesn't vote strictly along party lines.
"I expect members of Congress to come and represent their districts," he said in a news conference. He contrasted Democrats' "big tent" to the far-right Republicans who rejected three-term Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, and urged Democrats not to splinter in the same way.
"Jim Matheson is uniquely qualified and uniquely in touch with that district," he said.
Not everyone in the district agrees. Bush won UT-02 both times with two-thirds of the votes, but in 2008 Obama held McCain to 57%. Perhaps even more important, moderate Republicans are repulsed by what they've seen their party turn into. This isn't just a party of teabaggers; this is a full-on fascist party of crazed militia loons and separatists. If Wright wins the Democratic nomination, she can win the election-- and Democrats are ready for a real Democrat.
On the issues, there's no question who the real Democrat is. Wright supports Alan Grayson's proposal of Medicare for all, supports women's choice, plain and simple. She's an environmentalist; he voted against the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, promoting clean energy and limiting emissions of greenhouse gases, and he voted against HR2454 (cap and trade). Claudia is a strong advocate of a humane and comprehensive immigration policy; Matheson is all about building a high border fence. Claudia supports public funding for campaigns, and Matheson is another sleazy conservative, taking immense sums of money from the industries and corporations he's supposed to be overseeing. And of course, he's a vicious homophobe who voted for a constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality. Claudia believes people should have the right to marry whomever they want to. It will probably come as no surprise that Blue America immediately added her to our Bad Dogs page, dedicated to replacing reactionary Blue Dogs with progressive Democrats. I hope you'll join me in supporting her there.
As for the issue that led to the political demise of Robert Bennett... listen to how Claudia explains where he went wrong and WHY she would have voted against the bailout: