THE DEMOCRATIC CHALLENGE FROM THE LEFT
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel just got himself spanked. Despite a $16 million campaign war chest and the support of President Barack Obama, the former Congressman and White House Chief of Staff could not avoid a run-off in the general election. Garnering 45 percent of the vote to Jesus “Chuy” Garcia’s 34 percent, he almost, but not quite, cleared the 50 percent bar for victory. Emanuel, the darling of the mainstream Democratic Party, has earned the dubious distinction of being in the first mayoral runoff in nearly 20 years. He also runs the risk of being the first incumbent mayor ousted since Harold Washington beat Jane Byrne in 1987.
The man who delivered the Emanuel whipping, Chuy Garcia is a county commissioner and former alderman. His base is the poorer neighborhoods of Chicago, the Latino community, and the teacher’s union. He pounded on the theme of income inequality and exploited the fact that Emanuel is perceived as arrogant and removed from poor people. Indeed most of Rahm Emanuel’s support came from wealthy white voters who helped raise his large campaign fund. Garcia didn’t have a fraction of Emanuel’s money, but he had a large cadre of volunteers to help deliver his votes.
There were three other candidates in the race, and their combined 20 percent of the vote will likely determine the outcome of the April 7 election. Just a day after the election, both Emanuel and Garcia were courting their competitors, seeking their endorsements. So far, those opponents have been noncommittal, and the outcome of the race will depend on whether Emanuel is most persuasive.
In any case, Emanuel’s loss can be seen as a major setback to the Democratic establishment. Voters are tired of income inequality being acknowledged, with nothing being done about it. Their only recourse is the vote, and on February 24 in Chicago, they used it.
Another Democratic setback is looming as the inevitability of Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton’s Democratic nomination may be challenged by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Ma). Warren has been portrayed as a champion of the people, especially where consumer protection and financial matters are concerned. She has raised her voice against financial skullduggery by banking institutions, been a critic of attempts to weaken the Dodd Frank bill, and a defender of consumer rights. The architect of the CFPB (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) agency, Warren has been the darling of the left, and she has enhanced that status with her travel to many progressive gatherings. While she has demurred when asked if she will run for President, her replies, if somewhat definite, also seem coy. Additionally there have been efforts to draft her into running, with online petitions and other efforts directed her way.
While Warren seems to have little baggage, Hilary Rodham Clinton seems less than invincible. Questions have been raised about the Clinton Foundation and the sources of its money, especially when this money has come from foreign governments that have mixed relationships with the United States. Other questions have been raised about the high six figure speeches Clinton gives and the audiences she gives them to. Certainly she is entitled to earn what the market will bear with her speeches, but some say those who foot the bill are the very Wall Street scions that Elizabeth Warren rails against.
Could Elizabeth Warren seriously challenge Clinton? Is there a change that she could win the Democratic nomination? If she chooses to enter the Presidential race in the next several months, she will be entering the race at about the time Barack Obama did eight years ago. Like Obama, she has penned an autographical book that explains the origins of her populist views. And like Obama, she has the chance of “catching on” with voters.
After Clinton, the only competition Warren is likely to have for the Democratic nomination is Vice President Joe Biden. But Biden, at 73, may be considered to old to be considered a viable choice for President. Additionally Biden has a history of both verbal and behavioral gaffes (most recently offering a rather intimate whisper into the ear of Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s wife Stephanie, at Carter’s swearing in).
Whether she enters the race or not, Warren’s very presence pushes Clinton to the left on populist economic issues. And if Warren enters the race and pulls three or four states, and about 20 percent of the popular vote, she offers Clinton a challenge. If these “draft Warren” petitions catch o n and hundreds of thousands of signatures are gathered, that too, is a challenge to Hilary Clinton.
Voters are looking for alternatives and Democrats aren’t providing them. Instead they are offering a party line that inhibits discussion of issues and hews to the inevitability of party favorites. Rahm Emanuel’s defeat and the Warren challenge to Hilary Clinton suggest that the party line is unsatisfactory.