Wednesday, March 08, 2006

No liberal triumphalism today

It's a bad news morning for liberals everywhere. Tom DeLay, indicted but unbowed, has easily won the Republican primary in his Texas district, which means that he gets to run for re-election against a Democrat in November. Three GOP rivals were trying to knock him out of renomination (see my March 4 post), but clearly the fallen House Republican leader still retains the loyalty of the conservatives in his district who are most motivated to show up for a primary.
Those loyalists wanted to send a message to their perceived antagonists in the outside world. When I saw the vote results, I remembered something that a DeLay diehard said to me last year, when I spent a week in the suburban Houston district. Terese Raia, a feisty red-headed grandma, said: "Just the idea that the Democrats and the media will try to determine who will win or lose next year in our congressional district, that's the most frightening thing in the world. What they tried to do to President Bush, now they're trying to do it to Tom. It's pathetic."
But a triumphant DeLay (for now, anyway) isn't the only disappointment for liberals this morning. They had set up a purity test in a south Texas Democratic primary, a national test for Bush-hating bloggers and activist, but they lost big time.
In a heavily Hispanic district that stretches from San Antonio to Laredo, the faceoff pitted incumbent congressman Henry Cueller, a moderate Democrat, against a challenger, liberal Democrat Ciro Rodriquez. Grassroots liberals nationwide, using the Internet to raise money, backed Rodriguez. They wanted to knock off Cueller, who they viewed as a "DINO" (an acronym for "Democrats in Name Only)," because Cueller had worked with House Republicans on several big issues, and -- this was the worst sin of all -- because Cueller had allowed President Bush to affectionately grab his cheeks in the aisle of the House, prior to the Jan. 31 State of the Union speech.
Liberal activists had hoped to spin a Cueller loss as evidence that any consorting with Bush was political suicide, and that anti-Bush sentiment is a powerful political force. The latter might still turn out to be true in the '06 November elections. But there was no boon in south Texas last night, because political realities often foil a simple story line. There's a strong military presence in that particular district - where the heavily Hispanic electorate backed Bush in the '04 elections by six percentage points.
In this polarized era, there are still a few moderate Republicans and Democrats left in Congress, people who are willing to work with the other side sometimes. Cueller stays on that roster.