Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, once a darling of the Montana and national liberal blogosphere, appears to be having some trouble with the netroots as he embarks on a tough reelection campaign against Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg.
On issues ranging from wilderness to immigration reform to wolves the past several months have seen liberals’ irritation with Tester go from a slow simmer to a rolling boil in the blogosphere.
National blogger Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos fame—one of Tester’s most ardent and influential netroots supporters in the 2006 election—slammed Tester in December for voting against the DREAM Act, a bill that would have created a path to citizenship for undocumented aliens who were brought to the United States as children. The bill was a top priority of Congressional Democrats last session, but Tester and fellow Montana Sen. Max Baucus joined three other Senate Democrats and in voting against the measure, which Tester referred to as “amnesty” for illegal immigrants.
“Not only will I do absolutely nothing to help his reelection bid, but I will take every opportunity I get to remind people that he is so morally bankrupt that he'll try to score political points off the backs of innocent kids who want to go to college or serve their country in the military.”
More recently a fiery debate erupted on the Missoula blog 4&20 blackbirds over a post by frequent anonymous liberal blogger JC. In the post JC criticizes Tester for breaking key campaign promises dealing with wildness protection and the use of legislative riders and accuses the senator of marginalizing liberal policy critics by calling them “extremists”:
During Jon’s first term in office he took two actions that have explicitly gone against his promises: 1) he has introduced his Logging Bill, which would release certain lands protected as wilderness under current statutes and management practices; and 2) he inserted the wolf delisting rider into the 2011 Budget Bill.
Both pieces of legislation have been heavily panned by those who supported [former progressive Democratic Senate candidate] Paul Richards in his withdrawal from the primary race, and endorsement of Tester–and by many, many others. And for that vocal criticism of Tester’s legislation, Tester labeled his former supporters “extremists.” I guess their position once upon a time wasn’t too extreme for him to shake hands with. And Jon invited “extremist” Paul onto the stage for a victory salute. But those supporters have not changed their principles, policies, or politics. Jon Tester has.
But Tester supporters were quick to fire back arguing, in part, that Tester never pretended to be the liberal the netroots hoped he’d be, and that criticism of Tester is only aiding Republican Denny Rehberg’s effort to unseat the one-term Democrat.
We must remember that the lines have been drawn and our primary focus has to be to get Jon re-elected. The alternative is not in any way acceptable. Intellectual squabbling is a waste of energy, especially as some have estimated, it could be a close race.
Helena educator and 0ne-time Democratic gubernatorial candidate Don Pogreba (well, he filed for governor anyway), picked up the discussion on his blog Intelligent Discontent where he provided a lengthy rebuttal to JC’s post on 4&20 blackbirds. Pogreba says he’s troubled by the “developing trend in which progressives seem a lot more interested in tearing down a moderate-left Senator like Tester” than in attacking his opponent.
“The fact remains that Senator Tester is who he represented himself to be, not the person we progressives want him to be all the time. Montana’s not going to elect Bernie Sanders; it’s not going to elect Russ Feingold (hell, Wisconsin doesn’t even elect Russ Feingold anymore). What we can do is to support a Senator who looks out for the working class, did his best to create a Wilderness Bill that balanced environmental protection with political and economic reality in the state, and who has worked to protect small businesses and family farms here in Montana.”
The comments sections of each of the blog posts I reference above are well worth reading, if not lengthy. It’s too bad I don’t have the time or space to highlight them all here.
However, one interesting nugget stood out from comments on the 4&20 blackbirds piece.
Wilderness advocate Matthew Koehler, a staunch critic of the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, was invited in November to become a front page author on the prominent Montana Democratic blog Left in the West. He got the gig from Rob Kailey, a.k.a. Wulfgar!, who took over administrative duties of the blog after longtime administrator Jay “Touchstone” Stevens left in November, followed shortly thereafter by blog founder Matt Singer.
In announcing Koehler’s elevation to front-page post status, Kailey wrote:
His issues may often be singular, and his statements may not always meet with approval. I don't care. He has a great deal to say of importance to the left. That I do care about.
But according to a comment Koehler left on the 4&20 blackbirds post , he apparently lost front page posting privileges on LiTW after openly criticizing Tester for attaching a rider that removes grey wolves from the Endangered Species Act to a must-pass spending bill.
Some might argue all of this blog squabbling is much ado about nothing.
That may be true, but it’s hard to deny that the netroots played a integral role early on in Tester’s rise from obscure Montana dirt farmer to U.S. Senator…as Tester himself said in an August 2006 interview shortly after his surprising defeat of presumed front-runner John Morrison in the Democratic primary:
“I’ll tell you, I think [blogs] are critically important to this campaign…They’ve brought more people into the political process, and I have nothing but high praise for what they’ve been able to do and what they’ve given me.”
An overstatement? Maybe.
But During the 2006 Senate campaign Act Blue donors raised $342,823 from over 10,000 individual online contributions for Tester’s campaign, mostly from blogs. ActBlue donations to Tester’s 2006 campaign outnumbered donations from any single PAC, according to OpenSecrets.org.
There’s no question that an incumbent Senator—in what is likely to be one of the most hotly contested U.S. Senate races in the country—will rely less on netroots enthusiasm and activism as he will on the the traditional party resources.
What remains to be seen is whether Tester—a candidate lefty bloggers almost universally fawned over in 2006—will electorally suffer from the divisions flaring up among what was once his most active and vocal base.