Posted by Michael Bryan
Gabby Giffords finds herself in a fairly unique position: she is no longer a Member of Congress, but unquestionably has a vast reservoir of goodwill, respect, and love from her former constituents, regardless of party. To a far greater degree than any other resigning Member I can recall, Gabby has the power to influence the future political direction of her district. Arguably, should she choose to endorse a candidate for her former seat, that endorsement could have considerable, possibly dispositive, influence over who will take her place.
If her choice is well-considered, it could very well be determinative of the result of the upcoming elections in CD8, and it's successor CD2.
So, who will Gabby choose? I don't know.
Who could she choose? I have a few ideas.
Click through to keep reading...
The grapevine is buzzing with speculation, but a few things are clear: Gabby likely will endorse a candidate, and sooner rather than later. It could happen as early as next week. This makes good sense. In order for her endorsement to have the greatest impact, it should occur as early as possible and shape the primary field. Any Democrat Gabby gives the nod will likely be given a clear field in the Democratic primaries for both the special in CD8 and the regular in CD2. Any Democrat continuing a bid after Gabby anoints a successor would be endangering their future in the Party.
In order to effectively use Gabby's endorsement a candidate would have to have the experience, organization and support to make a credible run. Gabby can't endorse Joe Schmoe and expect him to win; she has to pick someone Congrebile (to coin an expression based on Vaticanology).
An operative of the DCCC was in town this week interviewing and vetting possible candidates among the dozen or so hopefuls who woke up and saw a Congress Member in the mirror after Gabby's resignation. Only a handful will make that cut.
The DCCC's main criteria is a candidate's ability to raise the millions that the coming battles will cost. That metric is somewhat sickening, and says much about the dependency corruption of our political system, but it does tend to be a reasonable proxy for political experience, institutional support, and a well-developed network of political favors and influence that can be turned into money and volunteers.
It's hard to see Gabby choosing anyone whom the DCCC does not also think passes muster. That excludes most of the possible candidates.
The current crop of state legislators serving in and around CDs 8 and/or 2, such as Farley, Heinz, Wheeler, or Aboud would likely make reasonable candidates, but their relative inexperience in national politics, unproven campaigning skills (let's face it, the main challenge in the safe districts remaining to Dems is getting selected in primaries), and relative poverty (none have been compiling a war chest in preparation for a run), limits their appeal to the DCCC. Nor do they enjoy much advantage from wide notoriety or popularity; most people haven't a clue who their state rep or senator is.
Admittedly, the upcoming special election will be a low-turnout affair, so notoriety among party faithful will be helpful in that race and could favor a current office-holder. It is conceivable that one of these state legislators could win that first race and parlay that into the notoriety and funding needed for the general.
The DCCC is far more likely to be attracted to someone well-connected and established among DC insiders. A person like Nan Walden. She was actively recruited by the DCCC to run against McCain. She has served in various federal capacities in both legislative and administrative appointments, and has strong ties to donor networks that ensure a credible run. And she is the sort of established, known quantity that reassures Washingtonians and makes it likely that Gabby's centrist legacy will be upheld. Ms. Walden seems to me to be the most likely Democrat to receive the support of the DCCC, and therefore Gabby.
Then again, Gabby's choice could be merely a place-holder for the special election. Such a person would not be intended to be a permanent replacement, and would not become a candidate for CD2. Someone like Ron Barber, Gabby's former district coordinator, who was also shot on January 8th, would be an ideal choice for such a role.
I think this approach unlikely, however. It gives up all the potential advantage of incumbency, and expends Gabby's substantial political capital with no long-term gain. I sincerely doubt this will happen, though it is in the realm of the possible.
Gabby might choose an eminent citizen who, while a Democrat, has no elected office experience. This seems a very risky maneuver. There would be little to indicate how such a person might perform in the context of a public campaign, and fund-raising would be uncertain. The risk of embarrassment is high.
But someone with the right pedigree of public service and high responsibility might be a reasonable choice for Gabby and the DCCC. The sort of person that comes to mind is Brigadier General John Adams. Unquestionably a loyal Democrat, but never holding public office, General Adams none-the-less has the experience and demeanor to be an immediately credible candidate. Even so, this seems an unlikely course for Gabby and her advisers to take.
But what if Gabby decides not to endorse a Democrat at all? "What? She might refuse to endorse anyone after all?" you ask?
No. What if she decides to endorse an independent, or ::gasp:: a Republican?
Is such a thing even within the realm of possibility? Perhaps. Let's consider what advantages this option might hold in the eyes of Gabby, and the inner circle advising her in this decision.
Clearly, if an independent (like Dr. Richard Carmona) were to receive Gabby's nod, the Democratic party would be almost certain to embrace him or her. Most likely, that person would either change party affiliation, or agree to caucus with the Democrats. This person must have the sort of dynamite non-elective public service resume of someone like Carmona that suggests a great deal of political potential. There are many eminent citizens in the district who might make such a credible independent citizen-legislator and are not closely affiliated with any party, though none immediately suggest themselves as urgently as Dr. Carmona has for the open Senate seat.
This course has little to recommend it over picking a Congrabile like Walden, except if there were a truly extraordinary candidate to whom Gabby has a special connection. The only person who clearly has that sort of compelling personal connection and public appeal is Gabby's husband, Mark Kelly. He has already ruled out a run, so this option seems very unlikely. Though, as Dr. Carmona's candidacy demonstrates, it is in the realm of the possible.
But what about a Republican? Could there be any possible reason why Gabby would do such a thing?
We must remember that Gabby really is quite a moderate Democrat. There are likely many moderate (GOPers would say 'liberal') Republicans whom Gabby could conceivably view as largely compatible with her own philosophy and values. Recall that Kolbe endorsed Gabby. But what possible political advantage could there be in Gabby choosing a Republican for her endorsement over a fellow Democrat?
Just look at the Republican candidates who have already announced: Antenori, Kelley, and Sitton. Two are proud Tea Party fire-breathers. I'm not too sure about Sitton (please leave comments if you are familiar with his political bent). Most likely, the Republican primaries will be red meat festivals with candidates seeking to be the most "real" conservative of the group.
With a small but significant Republican advantage in both CD8 and CD2, there is a very real possibility that this very moderate district could end up with a very immoderate representative.
But if Gabby endorses a moderate Republican, the calculus of the Republican side of the election could be radically changed. Suddenly, the most moderate Republican could become the front-runner, rather than utter ass-hat Kelley, or the rock-ribbed Antenori. Instead of surrendering her district to Tea Party rule, such an endorsement would allow Gabby to pass the district to a reasonably moderate Republican more reflective of the character of the whole district.
Potentially, Gabby endorsing a Republican could leverage a candidate directly into office, not just to victory in the Democratic primaries. It would be a fascinating example of political judo. It would also allow Gabby to make a magnanimous bi-partisan gesture that would set the political world on its ear. It would be a grand and utterly convincing demonstration that she is now above partisan politics.
Thus, I can see the compelling political logic of endorsing a truly thoughtful Republican like Toni Hellon, Pete Hershberger, or Lisa Lovallo.
But I can't see any wisdom in it.
The second biggest drawback is, of course, it would amount to Democrats surrendering the district without a fight. I think Gabby certainly has earned the right to endorse anyone she chooses, but I'm not sure even she has the right to hand the district over to the Republican Party, which is currently using it's Congressional majority to hold America hostage in an effort to unseat the Democratic President.
The biggest drawback, of course, is that it very well might not work. Even with Gabby's endorsement, it is entirely possible that Gabby's chosen moderate would be defeated in the primaries by a wing-nut. If that were to happen, the worst would come to pass (an ass-hat in Gabby's seat) and the Democratic field, and voters, would be entirely demoralized. That could harm the district, and also impair President Obama's chances at taking Arizona in the general election.
In addition, installing a Republican who, no matter how moderate, would caucus with the GOP is deeply counter-productive given the current proclivities of that Party. No matter how moderate the Member from CD8/2 might be, strengthening the Republican Party is fundamentally to undermine the electoral position of the only Party currently acting in anything approaching the public interest.
I would frankly rather have an ass-hat like Kelley to defeat after two years of embarrassment, than a moderate who might entrench for twenty years, like Kolbe. Such a moderate Republican might ultimately represent the district more accurately than a Kelley or Antenori, but if the district is to change party affiliation, that is a decision that I would want the district's voters to make, no matter how unwisely. At least then they could regret the choice, and moderate that choice in two years.
Now, you might think that I am purely speculating on this matter, but I'm not. I have heard very vague but credible rumors of rumors that such a Republican option is on the table in Gabby's camp. If there is any factual basis for those rumors, and I sincerely hope there is not, I just have one word for Gabby and her advisers: DON'T.