A leading liberal blogger has declared political war against centrist Democrats - the latest move in an intensifying show of dissatisfaction with the Democratic Congress by the once-friendly blogosphere.
Matt Stoller, who blogs at the well-trafficked OpenLeft.com, has compiled a list of 38 House "Blue Dog" Democrats who have voted with Republicans on key legislation, and called on the activist community to put pressure on them - and perhaps challenge them in primaries - if they fail to shape up.
"Some of these members may need to face a primary challenge, and it's useful for potential primary challengers to know that there is criticism of these members," wrote Stoller, who refers to the 38 Democrats as "Bush Dogs."
Stoller said he would give the Democratic Congress a near-failing grade so far. He is particularly upset with Democrats who joined Republicans in supporting legislation expanding the administration's surveillance capabilities and for not pushing hard enough for a time-certain Iraq withdrawal.
"They are going to be very methodical in this first stage," said Conn Carroll, author of the Hotline's Blogometer, of the Netroots. "I'd be very surprised if they end up targeting more than two or three people on the list. But just by identifying people, they're able to move a lot of these Democrats to the left."
Stoller's criticism reflects growing dissatisfaction from within the Democratic base with their party's performance. The latest Gallup poll gives Congress an 18 percent approval rating, matching an all-time low.
And the drop in congressional approval comes almost entirely because of declining support from Democratic voters. Only 21 percent of Democrats approved of Congress' performance - an 11-point drop in the last month alone.
But the desire to target members who have largely been voting in line with their constituencies puzzles many Democratic operatives.
Many of the targeted Democrats - 15 of the 38 by Politico's count - will likely be facing highly competitive reelection campaigns. Nearly all of them represent solidly Republican districts that President Bush carried handily in 2004.
"To truly reverse the damage the Bush administration has done will take electing more Democrats, not challenging the ones that have won very tough districts," said one Democratic strategist.
One of Stoller's potential targets, Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.), has won reelection in a conservative-leaning suburban Chicago district.
The Chicago Tribune reported yesterday that many of her freshman Democratic colleagues are looking to emulate her centrist voting record and close attention to local issues in their reelection bids.
That news angers Stoller, who argues that Bean has betrayed the Democrats who helped elect her in the first place.
"Melissa Bean is a bad legislator, and she does things that keep us in Iraq, destroy the Constitution, and deserves criticism for that. She certainly doesn't deserve to be emulated," he said.
The war in Iraq has ignited much of the liberal base's discontent. Over the last several weeks, several Democrats in targeted races have softened their position on the war, fueling even more outrage from the left.
Just one month ago, Rep. Tim Mahoney (D-Fla.) told his local newspaper that the choice was not "whether" to stage a drawdown of U.S. forces deployed in Iraq, but "how." Now, he says the surge "has really made a difference and really has gotten al Qaeda on their heels."
Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.), who ran an anti-war campaign to an upset victory in a conservative Bay Area district, acknowledged after returning from Iraq that he is "willing to negotiate with the generals in Iraq over just how much more time they might need."
But after taking flak from his liberal base, McNerney clarified his position on his blog: "I am firmly in favor of withdrawing troops on a timeline that includes both a definite start date and a definite end date."
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