2002 versus 2008

Patrick Hynes makes a great point this morning with some videos of Jeanne Shaheen from her 2002 debate against now-Senator John Sununu:

I think Shaheen will win the Democrat primary if she decides to run. Easily. But I see her numbers coming down quite a bit when the public is made aware of her past statements:
Basically, it turns out that Shaheen was pro-Iraq war, pro-Bush tax cuts, and pro-Bush-style national security. (videos after the jump) The fact is, in what was then a solid GOP state you probably had to be. So let's just work out some of her options. None of them are particularly good.

First, she can stand by her positions. More likely, she will drop Iraq like a hot potato, but stand by her position on tax cuts.  After all, Sununu has dropped his support for Iraq because "he never had any idea Bush would screw it up this badly" or something similar. Shaheen just takes the same line. But what about things like tax cuts, wiretapping, etc. She sticks with her statements. Call this the "stand by her principles" option.

Her problem is that there's a big division in the NH Democratic Party right now between the lefty activists and the Democratic centrists. NH GOP Chair Fergus Cullen talked about it back in June:

Call it the Carol Shea-Porter Gravitational Effect. For the past decade, conventional wisdom held that New Hampshire Democrats had to position themselves as moderate centrists to win elections. Former governor Jeanne Shaheen taught her party that lesson. Mark Fernald ignored it to his peril. John Lynch absorbed it and, for a time, prospered.

Then in last fall's congressional primary, war protester and unabashed left-wing activist Shea-Porter trounced the Shaheen School's candidate, a play-it-safe political vegetarian who avoided the rhetorical red meat the Democratic base starved for in an effort to preserve his electablity. Shea-Porter went on to edge an incumbent Republican in one of the nation's biggest upsets of 2006.

In other words, Shaheen was the model of centrism, back in the day. The NH Democratic Party may have learned a different lesson since then (or it may have gotten lucky in a really good environment) There is room for a nasty primary in NH on that question. Steve Marchand, the mayor of Portsmouth, could be the representative of the Carol Shea Porter school of principled left-wingism.

So her second option is to flip-flop and cave to the left. Now flip-flopping may be the new normal, but it is going to be a major attack on both sides in 2008 in the primaries and the general.  Ultimately, the question that Marchand and Carol Shea Porter will be asking is "does Shaheen have a principle?"

This raises a deeper question. In 2002, Democrats ran to the right, trying to avoid the bulldozer of 9-11. Five years later, the party base has been flooded with anti-war activists. Are the centrists who ran in 2002 electable in primaries? If they flip-flop are they going to be exposed to charges of  being unprincipled? Do progressive activists care?  In other words, as revolutions in parties bring new activists, they often bring new candidates. And the anti-war activism of the 70s reshaped (and ultimately discredited) the working-class Democratic Party that once was. After all, only part of what killed the Democratic Party in the 80s and 90s was their credibility on national security. The rest was the rest of the liberal agenda that finally won in the intra-party fights in 1974.

Perhaps the real question is, could the 2008 Democratic primaries, as the air saturates with attacks of flip-flopping on the war and other issues, end up being a battle between the new generation, the post-post-9/11 Democrats like Marchand, Obama, Carol Shea Porter, etc. versus the old Generation, the post-9/11 Democrats like Clinton, Shaheen, etc. What's the legacy of all this going to be?

Where does that leave Shaheen in New Hampshire?

Videos after the jump. (more…)

By Soren Dayton, ago