Should Barack Obama Protect Senate Incumbents?

I seriously thought this morning about trying to explain to the loyal readers of this blog the utter nonsense that’s going on in the New York State Legislature. However, that soap opera will probably change before midday from what I’m reading. Besides, when I talk to friends about it, their eyes glaze over after less than a minute. Another post, another day.

Today let’s talk about President Obama, and whether he wants to get involved in possible challenges to incumbent US Senators. We already know he dissuaded one potential challenger to newly minted Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.


Now she faces a challenge from veteran New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, and indications are she won’t back down no matter what the president says.

There’s also the matter of Pennsylvania, where Republican turned Democrat Arlen Specter could face Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak in a primary.


Like Maloney, he’s saying a possible Obama intervention won’t stop him from making a run. So now the question is this. Will President Obama risk putting political capital on the line to keep these insurgents from challenging the two incumbents?

The end game, as we all know, is a filibuster proof 60 vote majority in the Senate (though keeping all of them in line is another tough task). However, as Politico’s Jonathan Martin points out, does this president, the ultimate insurgent, want to now get into the incumbent protection business? Maybe not. Maybe he shouldn’t. Everyone, including the insurgents, are aware of the conventional line about why they shouldn’t run. The winner of a bruising primary then has to face a Republican opponent in a weakened position, both politically and financially.

But wait, isn’t that what they told Obama about running against the presumed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton? And didn’t he run anyway? As an insurgent (even though Clinton wasn’t an incumbent)? Why not let the process play itself out? If either Carolyn Maloney or Joe Sestak can’t raise enough money to seriously challenge Specter or Gillibrand, who says they’ll actually run next year?

The smart move would be for President Obama to stay out of these races, if they in fact happen. He intervened once on behalf of Sen. Gillibrand. Let it end there. Primary challenges can make an incumbent more politically responsive, and in these cases, both Sestak and Maloney will challenge from the left. On issues like the Employee Free Choice Act (which Specter has yet to embrace) and real health care reform, these moderate Democrats could be made to see the light if they have to worry about a challenge.

Besides, democracy is a good thing. President Obama should leave well enough alone, shouldn’t he? Or should he?
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