The Pathetic Reelection Of Kentucky Blue Dog Ben Chandler
Ben Chandler just squeaked to the narrowest of victories... and only after a contentious recanvass. He's confused and disoriented about how that could happen to him-- and to his fellow Blue Dogs, the conservative wing of the House Democrats, which was nearly obliterated. Chandler, the grandson of Governor-Senator-Baseball Commissioner-Governor A.B. "Happy" Chandler was first elected to Congress from Kentucky's 6th CD in 1994 after losing a gubernatorial election to Congressman Ernie Fletcher who left that seat open. The 6th is a traditionally Democratic seat that includes Lexington and Frankfort but has been turning redder and redder in recent years. Bush took 55% in 2000 and in 2004, while Bush was beating Kerry 58-41%, Chandler was winning reelection with a healthy 59%. Two years later the Republicans couldn't even find an opponent to run against him and in 2008, while McCain was beating Obama in the district 58-41%, Chandler scored a whopping 65%. (It's worth noting that Lexington, the biggest city and the Democratic bastion, gave Obama 52%, gave Lunsford, the Democrat running against Mitch McConnell 54%, and re-elected Chandler with 65%.)
So you can imagine what a shock it was to Chandler this month when only 600 votes separated him from lobbyist Garland Hale Barr IV, AKA- "Andy," on election night in a 50-50 photo finish. 119,845 voters came out for Chandler and 119,245 for Barr. That was almost 37,000 fewer voters turning out for Chandler than in the last midterm and about 84,000 less than in 2008. Meanwhile the GOP turnout in 2008 actually grew by 8,000 (from 111,378). And in Lexington itself, Chandler barely scraped by with a 52-48% win!
But instead of looking at the numbers and trying to figure out why his core, base voters stayed away from the polls, Chandler lashed out at Obama and Pelosi. Chandler's ProgressivePunch score for the 111th Congress was pretty dismal for a Democrat-- 53.66 on the contentious substantive issues that divided the parties. He voted with his own party just a tad more frequently that with the Republicans. He had the exact same score as Chet Edwards, who was defeated and just a fraction better than fellow Blue Dog Allen Boyd, who lost. And, like Boyd and Edwards, he voted against health care reform. But he did vote to restrict women's right to choice by supporting the Stupak Amendment to that bill. But rather than ask himself if Democrats and left-leaning independents stayed away on election day because of votes like that, Chandler blamed Pelosi:
"If not there, where else does the responsibility lie? You're talking about the loss of 60 or something seats held by capable public servants. There had to be something going on at a level above them. If that isn't the lesson, I don't know what is."
If he doesn't know what's going on, maybe it's time to pack it in and become a lobbyist. He voted for Blue Dog Heath Shuler to be Democratic leader. "The candidate who was running against her is a much better fit for my district. He's more of a moderate. I can tell you, Nancy Pelosi, the way she has been portrayed by Republican attack ads against conservative Democrats, is as a San Francisco liberal. That doesn't go over well in my district."
If he doesn't know how to defend himself against GOP lies and smears... again, maybe it's time to pack it in. As of October 13 (the last date for which FEC reports are available) he had outspent Barr $1,958,432 to $1,116,405 and had almost three times more cash on hand for the final 3 weeks. The DCCC put $452,695.61 into Independent Expenditures against Barr, while the NRCC put $588,764.13 to work against Chandler. Shady GOP front groups like Americans for Tax Reform, Americans For Limited Government and Center For Individual Freedom put another $500,000 in against Chandler. But instead of standing up for Democratic ideals, he is still chosing to confuse voters by muddying the party's brand and looking forward to campaigning in 2012 as someone who bragged about voting against Nancy Pelosi.