Two days prior to the March 4 Democratic caucuses—the annual ritual in which the party begins to hammer out its platform precinct by precinct—U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell sent a letter to Democratic precinct committee officers (PCOs), the party's faithful worker bees. Cantwell, who's up for reelection in November, asked the PCOs to read and distribute the one-page memo at the precinct meetings.
However, some PCOs in Seattle refused to pass along the senator's message. Senator Cantwell has been on shaky terms with Seattle Democrats, particularly in super-liberal districts like the 36th (Ballard) and 46th (North Seattle). In addition to her pro-war vote (unlike John Kerry, she voted for it when she voted for it), Cantwell voted to reauthorize the USA PATRIOT Act, voted to approve the Central American Free Trade Agreement, and worst of all, bailed on the Alito filibuster. (Indeed, one PCO—this one in South Seattle's 37th District, actually resigned over Cantwell's Alito stumble. Passions run high. The PCO's e-mail to 37th District Chair Gwen Rench read: "Given the cloture [filibuster vote] today, and the likelihood that Maria Cantwell will again be the Democratic nominee... I cannot in good conscience support the Democratic Party anymore.")
Perhaps the better anti-Cantwell ploy would have been to actually read her letter aloud at this month's precinct meetings. In addition to unwittingly highlighting her own failings with Seattle's Democrats (meekly stating that "the war in Iraq is of course an issue as well"), and obliviously writing stuff such as "this year, Democrats have had the opportunity to send a clear message to George W. Bush that Washington State in not going to sit idly by while he strips away our rights by nominating anti-choice, anti-civil liberty justices to our Supreme Court," Cantwell began her pitch this way (listen carefully): "In 2004, record numbers of Washington Democrats turned out to show our strength as a party... we delivered critical electoral votes for John Kerry and reelected Senator Patty Murray by a convincing margin."
What's missing from Cantwell's synopsis is any reference to Governor Christine Gregoire. Gregoire's 2004 showing—a 132-vote squeaker—was the opposite of convincing. Miffed Seattle PCOs could have seized on Cantwell's Gregoire omission to make a compelling point: Seattle's satisfaction should be paramount to Cantwell. Gregoire famously took the liberal wing of her party—Seattle—for granted (75,135 people in King County who voted for John Kerry did not vote for Gregoire), and was nearly embarrassed by a slick, soft-focus businessman. Quick, can you think of a similar GOP candidate?
It's unclear to me why Democrats insist on abandoning their base—especially in a year when the GOP script is reading like a Buster Keaton slapstick rather than an Arnold Schwarzenegger muscle-flexer.
I recognize the intellectual folly of supporting left-wing challengers like recent Green entrant Aaron Dixon. But given Gregoire's close call, it's a wonder Cantwell, who won her own 2000 election by just 2,200 votes, doesn't recognize the folly of ignoring her base. If thousands of King County Democrats aren't psyched to come out, she's in trouble.