A Special Election in Massachusetts Proves that Democrats Won't Lose Primary Challenges

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 16 2013 5:06 PM

A Special Election in Massachusetts Proves that Democrats Won't Lose Primary Challenges

An election for a seat in Congress happened yesterday, and nobody noticed. That's fair—the wasted final day of House Republican wrangling over the debt/continuing resolution deals was bigger news than the primary for now-Sen. Ed Markey's old seat in Massachusetts. But as the Club for Growth announces that it will "score" votes for today's deal against anyone who votes for it, I think this election was a helpful reminder of how relatively weak the left of the Democratic Party is when it comes to holding its candidates to account. 

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

The 5th District of Massachusetts is an impossibly safe Democratic seat. Barack Obama won 65 percent of the vote there in 2012, better than his average across the state. Progressive activists, knowing this, attempted to put the breaks on Democratic front-runner Katherine Clark. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which spends in these sorts of primaries and is often quoted when reporters are trying to figure out what the left is thinking, held a debate between the candidates and came away with qualms about Clark. It got behind Carl Sciortino, an openly gay state representative whose TV ad featured his father, a Tea Partier, dealing with his son "coming out" as a liberal.

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After the ad ran, PCCC released a poll of 555 Democratic voters in the district.

Today, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) and People For the American Way (PFAW) are releasing a new poll result showing that Carl Sciortino is the frontrunner among likely MA-5 Democratic primary voters who have seen his new TV ad. The poll shows that Sciortino jumped from 5% (5th place) to 29% (first place) among those who saw the ad last week. 

Last week, another poll.

Today, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) and People For the American Way Voters Alliance (PFAW Voters Alliance) are releasing a new poll result showing that Katherine Clark's support is vulnerable on the issue of government wiretapping. 57% of voters are less likely to vote for Clark once they learn that she sponsored a bill, S. 654, to give police more power to listen in on private conversations of people not suspected of breaking the law.

And another:

Today, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) and People For the American Way Voters Alliance (PFAW Voters Alliance) are releasing a new poll result showing that Katherine Clark's vote during the 2011 Massachusetts budget debate for a bill that cut worker pensions hurts her support with voters. 46% are less likely to vote for Clark once they learn that she voted for a bill that cut pensions while only 19% of voters are more likely.

The result of all this? Clark (who had the endorsement and backing of EMILY's List, which funds campaigns of pro-choice female candidates) won, rather easily. She grabbed 32 percent of the vote, doubling Sciortino's total. The scapegoats are many, from Sciortino's small geographic base (5 percent of the district) to Clark putting $250,000 of her own money into the campaign. But as Republicans are fearing primary challenges based on ideology, Democrats have no need to.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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