Published June 25, 2012
The Democratic Party is often described as a big tent that welcomes its diverse constituencies, but history has shown the big tent can quickly turn into a circular firing squad when interests collide. In recent weeks, analysts have begun speculating whether that's happening as the campaign swings into summer.
This month saw three prominent Democrats from West Virginia, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, Sen. Joe Manchin and Rep. Nick Rahal, announce they will not be attending the Democratic Convention in Charlotte, N.C. Their opting out is not all that surprising, given that an imprisoned felon garnered almost 40 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary against President Obama in coal-rich West Virginia -- a state hit especially hard by what many believe to be the Obama administration's anti-coal agenda.
But three other members of Congress have also distanced themselves from the convention -- and by extension the president -- by announcing their intention not to attend. They include Pennsylvania Rep. Mark Critz and New York Reps. Bill Owens and Kathy Hochul, both of whom won special elections in recent years.
"I guarantee that my time will be better spent meeting the farmers, small business owners and other people who put me here," Hochul said in a recent interview with The Daily.
If their decision to stay home is a slight to the Obama campaign, so is the advice given by Bloomberg Washington Editor, Al Hunt, who recently penned a column in which half a dozen prominent Democratic political thinkers, each with plenty of experience in national races, confided to him they had not been consulted by the Obama campaign.
Political analyst Michael Barone says this fraying is nothing new for the Democratic Party.
"One of the problems for a Democratic president or any Democratic candidate is that sometimes pleasing one of your core groups can displease another,” he said. As an example, Barone points to the intra-party fight over gay marriage. "Young voters are heavily in favor of it. Black voters have tended to be heavily against it."
These internal divisions have also plagued the Republican Party, as social and evangelical conservatives frequently skirmish with the libertarian and fiscally conservative wings of the party. But the rough-and-tumble nature of Democratic Party politics sometimes makes for a more bruising battle.
That is evident in the president's opposition to the Keystone pipeline proposal -- which pits blue-collar union factions of the Democratic party against environmentalists. The same clash is apparent in the immigration battle, which also pits blue-collar unionists against low-wage immigrants. Both groups are Democratic Party loyalists.
The Affordable Care Act has also created some divisions in the party. The pharmaceutical lobby, for example, was able to win some concessions in the health care law, one of which blocked the government from re-importing cheaper drugs from Canada -- something that many Democratic lawmakers had long pressed for.
The pharmaceutical carve-out also offers a taste of what makes this dynamic so caustic to the Democrats' "big tent" philosophy. The drug industry contributed $8 million to Democrats in the 2008 race -- almost twice what it had contributed in 2004. As the increasing demands of special interests grow in tandem with their contributions, the ultimate effect can be to paralyze the campaign. It may help to explain Al Hunt's advice to Team Obama that it "needs an intervention."