Yesterday the Washington State Progressive Caucus overwhelmingly endorsed Darcy Burner for the (new) 1st CD Congressional race.

In a crowded field of Democratic candidates, Burner stands out as the most progressive, with the biggest name recognition, the most experience running for (if not winning)  national office. and the most organized campaign.  Moreover, a recent poll  has shown Burner far ahead of the other Democratic candidates, though still trailing Republican Tea Party supporter John Koster.

In her speech to the Progressive Caucus, Burner said that she has “relentlessly fought and worked to make America progressive.”  Capitulating is not the way to win elections, she said. “Polls show me getting more votes than all the other Democratic candidates combined.” She said she has spent the last several years trying to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Burner said that it’s not acceptable to put Social Security and Medicare on the table in budget negotiations with the Republicans.  We’re at a tremendous crossroads. The 1% have consolidated a lot of power. We need to take the country back.  “The last couple of months have shown that I’m willing to stand up toe to toe with the bullies.”

During the discussions before the endorsement vote, five people spoke strongly in favor of Burner. The vote was overwhelmingly in her favor.

Compared to 2008, when Darcy last ran for Congress, now she is a much stronger speaker, both in her delivery and in content. (See here, for example.) In 2008 it was unclear to me whether she was really a progressive; probably because of the need to appeal to conservative voters in the southern part of the (then) 8th CD, Darcy moderated her views and didn’t take strong stands. Now she is much more outspoken in her progressive views — at least so far during this primary.

Darcy served as executive director of ProgressiveCongress.org in D.C. and really seems to have learned a lot about D.C. She said yesterday that lobbyists have less power than people imagine, in that lawmakers don’t directly follow their orders. But the way the Right wins is by flooding Congressional staff members with right wing talking points and policy sheets. Darcy said the average age of congressional staff is only about 26. They’re overworked and underpaid. (I heard that this is largely Newt Gringrich’s doing.) Darcy worked with other progressive groups to collect and distribute progressive tweets to staff members when bills are being crafted. 1000 staff members now regularly receive the tweets and 60% of them open the emails. If the Left is going to win, they need to be professional in such ways.

Darcy Burner on CSPAN

Burner has sparked controversy due to her outspoken views about President Obama. Publicola reports:

In a series of tweets last year, Darcy Burner, one of the Democratic candidates in the crowded field going for Jay Inslee’s open seat in the 1st Congressional District, lambasted President Obama.

In one from August 2011, Burner wrote: “In 2008, I gave thousands to @BarackObama. OFA [Obama for America] called recently for $, I told them not 1 dime: I don’t support Republicans.”

Also in August, she added: “@BarackObama isn’t a bad Democrat — because he’s not a Democrat. He’s a Republican. In that context his choices make sense.”

Burner’s outspokenness about Obama has thrilled many progressives but has alienated some Democrats, who fear that any criticism of the President may lead to a Romney victory in November.  According to  The race is on to fill new 1st Congressional District,

In an apparent effort to trim the field, Gregoire and Larsen endorsed [1st CD candidate] DelBene, as did the state Washington State Labor Council.

But King County Democrats struggled with their pick.

A subcommittee recommended DelBene and Burner, but then backed away from Burner when a Twitter message she sent in August 2011, while at Progressive Congress, became public. In it, she criticized President Obama during the debt-ceiling debate, writing, “Barack Obama isn’t a bad Democrat — because he’s not a Democrat. He’s a Republican.

On the facebook page of the King County Dems I posted “Wondering if Darcy Burner will be punished for saying the truth, about Obama: that he’s (almost) a Republican.”  Some people criticized Burner: “It is my opinion that Ms. Burner used very poor judgment in criticizing the President at this time.” and “I don’t mind valid criticism of the President, but this is one step away ( and some one say one step over into ) condemnation.” Others defended her: “How DOES one properly criticize, say, the treatment of Bradley Manning and the aggressive pursuit of whistleblowers in a way that WON’T be interpreted as condemnation?”

Darcy said that she has about 50 delegates who have promised to support her during Saturday’s convention. She needs a few more to lock up the endorsement for her. If no candidate wins a majority of delegates, then a committee chaired by Dwight Pelz will make an endorsement, and such a committee would almost certainly not select Burner.

Darcy Burner on CSPAN
Photo by Don Smith

Pelz has been criticized both for badmouthing Dennis Kucinich and for inviting charter schools supporter Cory Booker to give the talk at the gala dinner that met (for $100 a plate) at the same time as the progressive pizza gathering (which I’ll talk about in a separate posting). See Resolution Opposing the Choice of Cory Booker as Keynote Speaker at the 2012 WA State Democratic Gala and Dwight Pelz criticized for inviting Cory Booker to be keynote speaker at convention banquet.

Burner defended her outspokenness in terms that she echoed last night.  “It turns out that voters actually like people who have principles and are clear on their values. If we actually want to win in this district we have to give people something to get excited about and vote for someone who’s going to fight for them. And the idea that having a mealy mouthed politician that they can’t trust is a better strategy is counterfactual.” (source)

I wish Burner well but she has to overcome both the opposition of centrists like Pelz and the legacy of having lost in 2006 and 2008.

Darshan Rauniyar also spoke to the gathering and asked for an endorsement, which was not forthcoming. Rauniyar , who was born in Nepal and who has become a successful entrepreneur,  called himself a “living example of the American dream.” He said he’s the only candidate in the race who hasn’t taken PAC money. He stood up and opposed the coal train. “My opponents are playing politics” and aren’t opposing the coal train. People lost faith in the government and their leaders. “I love this country and the people for making me what I am today. I am not a professional politician. I am the best candidate to win in both August and November.”  I have gotten emails from people asking me to support Rauniyar , though my impression of him during the Seattle MDC forum was that he’s too inexperienced to run for office.  His speaking skills too seem to have improved.  (Perhaps these candidates should consider running for local or state offices before they run for US Congress.)
Darshan Rauniyar

No other 1st CD candidates (neither Laura Ruderman, Steve Hobbs, nor Suzan DelBene) asked for the endorsement of the Progressive Caucus.