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Democrats have their own problems

| Saturday, July 12, 2014, 9:00 p.m.


In 2007, Marilyn said, she was unwaveringly confident of a couple of things: Democrats would win the presidency, Hillary Clinton would be their nominee and the “party of the people” (of which she is a proud member) would control Congress for at least a generation.

“Well, I guess I got one thing right,” she said of a Democrat winning the presidency as she hoisted her bike on the back of her car after riding along the Great Allegheny Passage.

The “40-something” mechanical engineer, who won't give her last name, said she is unsure of more things today than she is confident about the political party in which she grew up.

“I always thought I was progressive but I'm turned off by this economic-justice push and touting someone as unready as Elizabeth Warren for president, so maybe I am more of a traditional Democrat,” she said.

Then she backtracks, but just a bit: “Well, I voted grudgingly for Obama. I really wanted Hillary. I sat out 2010 and 2012 because the Democrats and Obama went too far on too many issues.”

Marilyn is one of many Democrats feeling the unspoken divide within their party.

Republicans have all types of factions dividing them as they look past November's midterm elections to 2016.

“The Democrats have a very similar problem but, because we are the party in power, the focus is on the other guys,” said Larry Ceisler, a Philadelphia Democrat media consultant. “I don't think, as Democrats, we are as fractured as the Republicans but I think we certainly have strong divisions and some of the same problems as the GOP.”

Adam Bonin, board chairman of Netroots Nation, the annual progressive convention that will descend on Detroit this week, breaks down the division between two types of Democrats: “There are the establishment Democrats who are supportive of the president, excited about Hillary, and who are interested in preserving the liberal state as we know it.

“Contrast that with the progressive Democrats, who are much more concerned with income equity and who are frustrated with Obama and his excessive connection to Wall Street, the NSA stuff, and felt that ObamaCare did not go far enough” — the single-payer crowd.

Many Democrats, like Marilyn, argue that scars remain from the Hillary-Obama primary race of 2008 and that no one from the Obama team reached across the divide to heal.

“She became secretary of State, got on a plane, and we never saw her,” she said. “She never did interviews, she was just gone.”

Bonin said the keynote speakers at the Netroots conference are the progressive darlings of income inequality — Sen. Warren, D-Mass., and Vice President Joe Biden.

No, Hillary will not be there. And Bonin recalls that when she spoke at the 2007 conference, she was booed: “She was defending taking donations from lobbyists and the crowd did not approve.”

Still, he believes she will be successful in 2016. “I have to say, even with ideological misgivings, there is going to be a faction of people with progressive credentials who recognize the historical nature of her candidacy.”

One thing that hurt her in 2008 is now gone, he added: “There is no Iraq war to help her rival position on her left.”

Ceisler sees the division as being between the moderates (such as himself), who come from more traditional Midwest practicalities, and the progressives, who he says are largely found in urban and academic enclaves, unions and their sympathizers.

“But even among the unions there is a division,” he said. “You have the SEIU economic-justice types and the building trade and manufacturing members who are more pragmatic,” he said.

Kyle Kondik, a numbers analyst at the University of Virginia's Crystal Ball politics website, sums it up this way for 2016: Even if the GOP settles its divisions, it still has emerging demographics among minorities working against it, while the consequences of Obama's popularity (or lack thereof) works against Democrats.

Bonin pauses and thinks long-range: Young people — what issue will he have to challenge them to champion in the future to convince them to become Democrats?

It is a problem beyond internal divisions that plagues both institutions and is a story for another day.

Salena Zito covers politics for Trib Total Media (

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