It's exciting to hear a little energy in the voices behind the primary Matheson talk. I love primary challenges. And no one is as disappointed in Jim's health care vote, and small minded strategy since the '08 election. But I have another idea for all those experiencing a little conserva-Dem angst:
Let me explain.
Matheson's future is pretty obvious. By 2013, one way or another, there will be no more "Congressman" Matheson. Maybe that will happen due to "Senator" Matheson, or "Governor" Matheson, or "Guy Who Got Less Votes in All Three" Matheson. And on the national level, Democrats don't need him. He may regret trying to fight an agenda he's going to own either way in 2010 when the base can't get out for him, but that is his problem, not ours.
To recap my thoughts so far: Primary talk for one vote (health care) is tea bagger territory, and we shouldn't go there (spend a little time on the #tcot #utgop hashtags on Twitter if you need convincing). Primary talk for a voting "trend" is more reasonable. A Democrat campaigning on Fox News in opposition to key party votes, definitely justifies primary talk.
But then there is reality. Take a look at this (unfortunately worded) quote from State Party Chairman Wayne Holland in today's City Weekly:
Utah Democratic Party chairman Wayne Holland chastised Matheson's critics as creatures of the Internet who do not understand the district well-enough to offer sound strategy. Supporting a more liberal challenger for Matheson “sounds nice at 2 o'clock in the morning, but it doesn't play out in reality. .... [Matheson] wins by high 50s or low 60s in a district that is in the top 12 most conservative districts in the county. To not have a moderate in that seat would be suicide for the Democratic Party.”Wayne is right. And no matter how angry we are with Matheson's votes (and I would argue strategy, as it still seems short-sighted to me for him to oppose an agenda he's going to own anyway... why not at least energize your base if you're going to take a hit one way or another?) we have to admit that yes, a primary challenge in 2010 would cost Utah Democrats the seat.
But there are two other messages in Holland's quote that -- for me -- illuminates something much more important than Jim Matheson to Utah Democrats. The idea that the loss of Matheson, for whatever reason, would be "suicide" for the Democratic Party (assuming Holland means the Utah Democratic Party), and the idea that disagreement with Matheson -- either from an ideological, or from a political strategist's point of view -- is propelled solely by "creatures of the internet," and the implied attitude toward these same "creatures of the internet."
That is what those frustrated with Matheson's vote should be working to change. If those fed up with the direction Matheson takes himself have enough energy, time, money, and (most importantly) candidates to run primary challenges against Matheson, or other down ticket "conserva-dems" we disagree with ideologically, why not write District 2 off until 2012, and focus that energy on District 1 (which is not that different from District 2, if ballots cast can be any indicator). Run your challenger there, and just wait Jim Matheson (and redistricting) out, rather than toss the seat like the tea-baggers in NY-23 did.
If we didn't just pop out of the woodwork every time Jim Matheson casts a Republican vote -- even if that is increasing in frequency since November 2008 -- but instead pointed these disagreements toward working inside the state party to increase our influence, we could gain much more. Within a few years, we will have our "better" Democrat. And as much as we have to accept our own realities, the party will have to also accept a future without Jim. That's where our real opportunities lie.
So forget Jim.
Those who want to take Matheson on directly should pause for a minute. What if, instead, we took this energy and put it toward reminding Mr. Holland that we "Creatures of the Internet" are volunteering and staffing county party efforts many times over, and in many counties even serving as county party officers. And also making that increasingly the case. Influencing the party from within through involvement will do more for Democrats in Utah, and the future of Democrats in our federal delegation than a 2010 challenge for Matheson ever could. Stop pretending a blog or a Twitter account is enough.
So forget Jim. His future is predictable and if he can't get the base out for him in 2010, that's a political choice he's made (I think he'll be okay, one more go round). What isn't set in stone is the future of the state party, and the "machine" that fosters the candidates who will replace people like Matheson in coming years.
That's where we "Creatures of the Internet" can have real influence, and avoid the trap that the Tea-Baggers have fallen into.