The big news coming out of the Pennsylvania primaries yesterday are that two of K Street’s favorite Capitol Hill Democrats, Tim Holden and Jason Altmire, got upset in races where they had lots more cash than their opponents but still got taken down. The way these races played out should be a big lesson to Democrats who think they can take special interest cash, make pro-special interest votes and still win elections. And with big issues like student loans, tax subsidies for Wall Street and Big Oil, and accountability for the big banks in play the rest of the year, politicians should pay attention.
Holden was an incumbent and his only weakness was that he was forced to run in a more Democratic district than he used to have. Given that he voted with corporate special interests and Republicans a lot of the time — including on the Bush tax cuts and fracking and factory farms — that became a big problem when he faced a progressive challenger named Matt Cartwright. Holden had the support of the Democratic establishment and the monied interests, but Cartwright thumped him. One of the key ads in the race directly took on his ties to Wall Street:
The other story was even more dramatic. Republicans wanted to put Jason Altmire and Mark Critz into the same district to eliminate a Democratic seat in redistricting, but they made sure to give Altmire, who has actually voted with House Republicans more than he has House Democrats over the course of this term — 53% of the time he voted with Boehner and the House majority — an easy victory, so they made the new district far more of Altmire’s old district. Between that and the money edge Altmire had, he started out way ahead in the race, 23 points up in one poll I saw, but Critz came on strong and won the race with help from the Steelworkers, other unions and a broad progressive coalition upset with Altmire over many bad votes, including health care reform. Given that I had actually helped Altmire win his seat the first time he ran with an independent expenditure campaign because I had thought he would be more of a progressive, and given that sources had told me that he directly lied to Speaker Pelosi on voting for health care reform, I had strong personal hopes that this race would turn out the way it did.
We are entering a dramatic election year. Mr. Wall Street 1% himself, Mitt Romney, is the Republican nominee for president. Their party’s platform is the Ryan budget and the most radical redistribution of wealth toward the wealthy and away from things the middle class and poor depend on in American history. Wealthy special interests are strangling our system of government and making it dysfunctional. We need Democrats who are willing to stand up to K Street, Wall Street, and big business special interests, so that this election becomes a clear contrast over who will take the big boys on. Pennsylvania’s primary results are a great symbol that it is happening.
Michael Lux is the co-founder and CEO of Progressive Strategies, L.L.C., a political consulting firm founded in 1999, focused on strategic political consulting for non-profits, labor unions, PACs and progressive donors. In November of 2008, Mike was named to the Obama-Biden Transition Team. Previously, he was Senior Vice President for Political Action at People For the American Way (PFAW), and the PFAW Foundation, and served at the White House from January 1993 to mid-1995 as a Special Assistant to the President for Public Liaison.
This piece was first published on The Huffington Post.