IL-14: The Losing Strategy

by , posted on Sunday, February 3rd, 2008 at 8:53 pm

Originally posted at Fireside 14, Prairie State Blue, Open Left and MyDD.

What happens in Podunk shouldn’t stay there.  Or at least if it does, the Democratic Party Establishment, the corporate wing of the Democratic Party, the Blue Dogs among us, will have won one more unrecorded battle against those of us who want real change.

What’s happening most immediately in the IL-14 corner of Podunk (a term I use here to describe anything not directly inside the DC Beltway) is a primary and a special primary on Tuesday, between the DC insider “pick” for our district, an attorney who is a relative newcomer to both politics and our area, and John Laesch, the nominee against Denny Hastert last time out, and the only progressive in the race.

At this point, I’d call it a significant bellwether for the upcoming Congressional elections that virtually no one outside of IL-14 is paying much attention to in the glare of the presidential race, as well as a bellwether event in the battle for control of the party.  So while I don’t expect this diary to get much attention, I want to leave a record of what has happened in this primary.  Bellwethers, however unobserved at the time, sometimes have a way of becoming useful history for those who follow.  

This diary is a history, if you will, of the Progressive vs. Blue Dog, DC insider vs. local grassroots, battle for IL-14.  It’s about how, if long, long years of local Dem activists fighting to keep the party’s head above water succeed and the district becomes competitive, the DC Carpetbaggers arrive.  And deploy a losing strategy.

As many of you may know, Bill Foster, the DC insider-backed, self declared Blue Dog candidate, and newborn politician, is widely touted by the mainstream media as the “frontrunner” in IL-14.  How did he get to “frontrunner” (as defined by no poll or fact-checking on the ground but rather MSM parroting official party talking points) from zero history of involvement in the local Dem party and zero enthusiasm on the ground for his candidacy?  

The short answer is $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

It’s a given to the MSM that a candidate who can self finance to the tune of a promised $1 million in the primary (he’s already given himself $1.4 million, $370,000 in the last week) and $1 million in the general, is, by default, the “frontrunner.”

But the more complex history of how we saw the application of Foster’s dollars, guided by DC insider strategy, here in Podunk, is a useful guide to how the Democratic Establishment seeks to take over districts they view as newly competitive.

In an attempt to make a very long story as short as possible, I will lay out a few facts that are detailed (with links) in this previous diary of mine.  Known-knowns about Foster’s recent political awakening are this:

Prior to leaving his job at Fermilab in disgust over lost federal funding in 2006 for the project he managed, multimillionaire Foster’s FEC record of donations to Dem candidates totaled two, one in 2000 to fellow physicist Rush Holt and one in 2004 to Obama.  There is no record of multi-millionaire Foster contributing a single dollar to any local Dem organization or candidate, and he was at that time wholly unknown to any local Dem organization.  Foster’s campaign manager has confirmed that prior to his 2006-07 year-long sojourn in DC, he was just not political.

Upon leaving his job at Fermilab and moving to DC, Foster stated his distress with the federal funding situation at Fermilab, noting as he did that since Dennis Hastert would shortly no longer be the Speaker, he would no longer be in a position to defend Fermilab funding.  Foster also stated that his intent in moving to DC was to seek a non-partisan job on Capitol Hill and that upon his discovery that non-partisan is not an option there, he chose the Dems.  A perusal of the FEC and statewide records will reveal that his family in Wisconsin, in stark contrast to Foster himself, have a history of donating early and often to a wide variety of Dem candidates, so this choice should be unsurprising. 
While in DC he attended a Rahm Emanuel DCCC Red to Blue fundraiser, decided to work for the Patrick Murphy campaign in Pennsylvania, and spent six weeks doing that.

Not long thereafter, and while still in DC, Foster “consultanted-up,” hiring the usual suspect array of DC insider and New Chicago Machine political consulting groups and was, before he even announced his candidacy or moved back to the district where he spent twenty years completely uninvolved in politics, being written about by publications like U. S. News and World Report as a candidate to watch.

During his stay in DC, he made a few quick donations to Patrick Murphy, the DSCC and thePennsylvania Democratic Party.  The only donation he made to an Illinois candidate or race while in DC in 2006 was to Rahm Emmanuel-backed candidate Tammy Duckworth.

This is where the history of Bill Foster, Candidate, picks up from that previously chronicled and gets right down to how wealthy DC insider picks go about taking over districts, one presumes with the playbook of their Democratic Party Establishment backers firmly in hand.

The previously locally uninvolved Foster moved back to IL-14, dusted off his checkbook, and went a-callin’ not on voters, but on elected officials and Dem organizations:

$1000 to the Kane County Democratic Central Committee 
$500 to the Whiteside County Democratic Central Committee 
$1000 to Citizens for Linda Holmes (local State Senator) 
$200 to Kane County Democratic Central Committee 
$500 to Lee County Democratic Central Committee 
$500 to Friends of Phil Hare 
$1000 to Friends of Tom Weisner (Aurora Mayor) 
$500 to DeKalb County Democrats
$1000 to Phil Hare (who gave Foster his endorsement 9 days after this second, larger donation)

$500 to Aurora Township Democratic Central Committee (this appears to be the largest single donation they have ever received from an individual) 
$200 to Bureau County Democratic Central Committee 
$200 to Kane County Democratic Central Committee 
$100 to Friends of Tom Weisner 
$250 Personal PAC Inc (a state-level pro-choice PAC) 
$250 DNC 
$250 Dundee Township Democratic Central Committee

For many of these County and Township Central Committees, and candidates, who have been toiling away in this R+5 district for decades of Dem drought, these funds are badly needed and they can all use the money, as far as that goes, so I’m glad he finally found some reason to loosen up the purse-strings.

But despite introducing himself with check in hand, I’ve heard quite a lot of grumbling about Foster’s later treatment of local Dem activists and County organizations.  He’s blown off at least two of their candidate forums that I know of–Henry and DuPage counties–and cancelled a coffee organized by a very active St. Charles precinct committeeperson, on the grounds that he discovered this person had donated to Laesch in 2006.

By and large, with the exception of writing checks-as-calling-cards, Foster is not working with or for any local Dem candidates or organizations.  He isn’t meeting with local rank and file, much less voters.  His public appearances are few and far between – and strictly controlled.  People in the western end of the district like candidate for Sheriff, Dem volunteer and official Tim Wise, complain they can’t even get a callback from his campaign when they are trying to invite him to a candidate forum.  The western end is very far from where I (and Foster) live, but Dem rank and file people like Tim tell me the voters out there are dismayed that Foster spends no time in their part of the district, except in their mailboxes and on their TV screens.

And Foster’s campaign is largely and primarily being conducted by mailer and TV advertising, produced by the aforementioned usual suspect DC insider consulting businesses.  His campaign manager, a former employee of one of them, Rahm Emanuel’s friend Pete Giangreco’s The Strategy Group, is beginning to look like a token with a lot of time on his hands.  Foster’s “ground troops” are hired guns, almost all reputedly brought in from Iowa where they were paid staffers of the Dodd campaign.  He’s been able to generate virtually no enthusiasm from the crowds at the local debates he has appeared at and his reading of prepared responses from note cards he shuffles through has been remarked upon frequently.

He is the frontrunner why again?

Only one reason: his pre-packaged from outside-of-the-district campaign has the $$$$$$$$ to seem, especially to the mainstream media, the most viable.

Well, no, people will say two reasons: because there are his endorsements, so lets take a moment and look at those.  In fact, let’s take a look at one of the earliest and most important to him, because it came at a time when he was trying to back off from his statement that there was practically nothing the Blue Dogs stood for that he did not agree with.

Remember Phil Hare delivered Foster’s an early endorsement, nine days after Foster made his second and larger contribution to Hare’s campaign?  Well, here’s the timeline for Foster’s acquaintance with Hare, along with some anecdotal information related to me by some individuals who watched pieces of it unfold – and yes, I am naming their names, because they have given me permission to do so.  

August 1, 2007: Foster contributes $500 to Friends of Phil Hare

August, 2007: Lowell Jacobs, Chair of the Whiteside County Dems, appeals to Hare’s office to stay out of the primary in IL-14 and is told Hare is not contemplating endorsing any candidate in this neighboring district.

September 14, 2007:  Foster attends a Unity Dinner in Rock Island (outside of the district) also attended by Steny Hoyer and Phil Hare

September 18, 2007:  Foster contributes $1000 to Friends of Phil Hare

September 27, 2007:  Hare delivers Foster a key early endorsement

October 10, 2007:  At a Progressive Democrats of America reception in Arlington, VA for Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Barbara Lee, Jeffrey Hearn, Research Director for the Laesch campaign, spoke to Lynn Woolsey, the other CPC Co-Chair about Phil Hare’s endorsement of Bill Foster.  CPC Vice-Chair Hare had, after all, just endorsed the self-declared Blue Dog Democrat Foster instead of the progressive Democrat Laesch, which hardly seemed to be a very good way to advance the progressive agenda in Congress.  

Woolsey said Hare told her he had endorsed “a union guy.”  Hearn told Woolsey that Hare didn’t endorse “a union guy,” that he endorsed the self-funding millionaire Blue Dog who’s running against the “union guy.” He also told her that Foster’s wealth comes from a company he co-owns where the shop floor is non-union. Woolsey was not happy to hear about all this.  The last thing Woolsey said to Hearn before he headed off to find Bill Goold, the Executive Director of the CPC, was that she was “just sick about Phil.”

December 20, 2007:  Foster donates another $800 to Hare, maxing out for the primary.  (Note: to date, Hare has not reciprocated, his only congressional donations for 2008 being to Carol Shea-Porter and Dan Lipinski.)

December 21, 2007:  Foster receives $2000 from Hoyer for Congress Committee and a $5000 contribution from AmeriPAC: The Fund for a Greater America (Hoyer’s leadership PAC).

Heh.  And then there was the Dick Durbin (who many people fail to recall was the person who recruited Duckworth to run against Cegelis, when Rahm failed to turn up a wealthy self-funder to do so) endorsement.  What more did the Party Establishment need to convince the MSM that they were looking at a frontrunner?  Turns out, not much, and once the Democratic Party Establishment and the MSM were united in proclaiming him so, the endorsements, in a process highly reminiscent of the Duckworth campaign, rolled in.

But even with that “frontrunner” sobriquet attached to his name by the MSM, and the Democratic Party Establishment on the job, they were unable to deliver up all the endorsements to Foster.  Setting aside the Progressive organizations and luminaries like DAPAC, PDA, Noam Chomsky, Barbara Ehrenreich, Studs Terkel, and Dr. Quentin Young of Physicians for a National Health Care Policy, who have only endorsed Laesch, it’s an odd sort of dueling endorsement thing going on here in IL-14:

Foster: Planned Parenthood 
Laesch: NOW

Foster: SEIU 
Laesch: AFL-CIO

Foster: A bunch of Nobel Laureate physicists 
Laesch: The majority of Democratic Precinct Committeepersons

Foster: Dick Durbin 
Laesch: Illinois Lt. Governor Pat Quinn

and so on.

Heh, but I digress.  I have had a few moderate and conservative Dem bloggers suggest to me that while John, an unabashed progressive, may align more closely with my personal stands on the issues, he is too far to the left to take an R+5 district like IL-14 and that I need to consider that the Democratic Party Establishment is right in backing Foster, whose conservative creds may be needed to take a Republican-leaning district and we should take what we can get.  To that I say: bullshit.  I fail to see any logic at all in thinking right-leaning voters in a red-leaning district are going to be inspired to vote for the conservative with a D after his name.  I have lots and lots and lots of Republican neighbors and they really, really do prefer their conservatives with an R after their name.

The above-mentioned people who have said as much to me will probably jump in here to suggest I am letting my idealism get in the way of accepting reality, to that also I say: bullshit.  I am the most goal-oriented person I know, and I can’t see anything at all effective about a strategy that says “lets package up some commercials for the primary that may appeal to enough independents to get our candidate past the fact that the Dem base just doesn’t like him, and then we’re good.”

That strategy worked really, really well for Congressman Roskam (R-IL06) but it worked less than well for the Democratic Party in 2006.

I live here and understand the reality on the ground.  To any random Democratic Party Establishment insiders who may wander by someday and read this, I’ll give you a hint:

The next time you are fumbling about, trying to figure out what kind of candidate to bestow on the next Podunk that pops up on your radar, it might be better to think “Sundance” instead of “Hollywood.”  In other words, you might want to give up those big-budget high-concept productions (Heroic Wounded Iraq-War Vet, Mr. Physicist Goes to Washington) that are big on one-liners and don’t tax the brain, in favor of a few fine indie productions that have actual plots and storylines and themes that leave the viewer thinking.

In other words, spare us the candidates who look like they will make great political-ad fodder but turn out to be unable to either communicate with or enthuse the voters, and consider working with, instead of against, the local grassroots, and their favorites, who have already worked long and hard to communicate with the voters and rejuvenate the local party.  

Because, contrary to what the bullshit artists noted above would have you believe, we unimportant grassroots activists out here on the ground are not so inspired by ideology or candidate-worship that we have become irrational and illogical.  We understand perfectly well, with our rather simple homespun logic, a fact the Democratic Party Establishment seems to be unable to grasp:  the country is ready for change and our progressive grassroots candidates are closer to what our neighbors are thinking than are your pre-packaged centrists.

Do you even bother to do any research before you jump into the deep end of Podunk?  

In IL-14, specifically, you are trying to promote a candidate whose position on immigration is utterly repellent to the 20%, one-fifth, of our voters who are Latino.

In IL-14, specifically, your image experts try to respond to the fact that Foster is gaining no ground with the base by conjuring up political ads featuring the specter of Paul Simon in a manner that Illinois Dems who remember him fondly find irreverent.

In IL-14, specifically, your guy is telling students at an NIU debate that he will neither vote to defund Iraq, nor rule out a pre-emptive war against Iran.  Do you even comprehend what a huge misstep that is?  Considering what Congress has managed to do to get us out of Iraq, I suppose it’s entirely possible that you don’t.

In IL-14, specifically, your wealthy and disconnected candidate has been hiring homeless people to canvass for him, from a shelter where the grassroots progressive candidate in this race volunteers, and then has the nerve to suggest a multi-tier solution to the healthcare crisiswhere the “homeless person” will get some kind of care that’s “not gonna be great” while the guy who can afford to buy the best of care will get to, and everybody else will fall somewhere in between.

Obviously, he just doesn’t get it, but the point I’m really trying to make is the Democratic Party Establishment just doesn’t get it.

And not getting it is exactly why they are deploying the strategy that lost them IL-06 in 2006 in IL-14 in 2008.

One of two things will happen on February 5.  

  1. Bill Foster wins.  And goes on to lose in the special general on March 8 and regular general in November, because the Democratic Party Establishment in DC elected to bestow upon us, without consultation with the rank and file in the district, an unappealing and unelectable “high-concept” candidate who has no base of support to call his own in an R+5 district.
  1. John Laesch (and the grassroots) win on February 5.  And go on (after just having the Democratic Party Establishment kick them into a hole) to dig their way out and try to win an election a month away in an R+5 district, most probably with with little more support from the party heirarchy than a Red-to-Blue donor list and some grudging lip service.  Heh, at least we’ve got a shot at winning the actual seat, which is more than I can say for Foster.

I’m very happy to say I don’t think Foster can win the primary.  At least I will be very surprised if John doesn’t.

But either way, we go forward to March 8 embroiled in a mess largely of the Democratic Party Establishment’s making, that has achieved nothing but to stall and hinder at every turn the forward momentum that the local party was enjoying before their meddling, making it much more likely, whoever the nominees are, that the guy we send to DC as our new Congressperson on March 8 is going to have an R after his name.

That’s what happens when the Establishment Wing of the Democratic Party tries to go over, around, under, through – anywhere but to – the Progressive Wing of the Democratic Party that has been carrying the water locally during long years of drought.  

And this is what is happening in IL-14.


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