Today two candidates are poised to win elections against incumbents. Both are liberal Democrats, both have been buoyed by the endorsement of a local big-city newspaper, and both have drawn support from the blogosphere. Indeed, they'll probably vote similarly if elected.
The difference is in their choice of opponents. And it's all the difference in the world.
Hank Johnson is running against Cynthia McKinney. McKinney, you'll recall, is the cuckoo for Coco-Puffs Representative who recently punched a Capitol police officer for the crime of not recognizing her (she refuses to wear her member pin when she waltzes past security), an incident that barely makes her greatest hits list. That list includes questioning Al Gore's "negro tolerance level" in 2000, suggesting in 2002 that a possible secret plot by the Bush Administration to make money by letting the 9/11 attacks happen would be worth investigating, and accepting donations from people under federal investigation for raising money for terrorist groups (refusing to return the money in a 2002 debate, she said her campaign wouldn't "racially profile our contributors"). That's not even counting the open anti-Semitism of her father Billy, who has lamented that "Jews have bought everybody. Jews. J-E-W-S."
Ned Lamont, on the other hand, is running against Joe Lieberman, one of those J-E-W-S. Lieberman's sin, of course, is his steadfast support for the war on terror generally and the war in Iraq specifically, and his insistence, against the prevailing opinion of his copartisans, that the latter is a part of the former.
The New York Times, Bible of Tri-State liberals, gave Lamont a surprise endorsement on July 30; though he'd started to edge Lieberman out in polls shortly before then, the endorsement seemed to cement his lead. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, meanwhile, has waged a pro-Johnson, anti-McKinney assault in both its editorial endorsements and in editorial page editor Cynthia Tucker's column.
Johnson, who has forced McKinney into a runoff for the Democratic nomination by holding her under 50% in the three-way primary last month, leads 53% to 40% in the latest InsiderAdvantage poll. Lamont leads Lieberman 51% to 45% in the latest Quinnipiac poll. The polls could be wrong -- low turnout races, as a mid-August primary is likely to be, are hard to poll -- but it would be foolish to bet on either incumbent.
Besides the papers, Johnson and Lamont owe some thanks to the blogs -- but not the same blogs. The nexus of Johnson's online support is the hawkish Winds of Change, where Joe Katzman and Marc Danziger invited Johnson to ask for donations and respond to reader comments. The comments ranged from skeptical to enthusiastic (Danziger's nom-de-blog is "Armed Liberal," so it's no surprise Winds of Change would attract a heterodox crowd), but Johnson walked away with a few thousand dollars and a bit of blog-cred.
Lamont's fans congregate around Daily Kos, the id of the partisan left, and similar bastions of anti-Bush shrillness. Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas appeared in a campaign ad with Lamont, and he's been known to hang around with liberal blogger Jane Hamsher. But when Hamsher embarrassed herself with a blackface caricature of Lieberman, Lamont pretended to know nothing of these "blogs." Lamont, unlike Johnson, suddenly had to worry about how being associated with the blogs would make him look.
It probably won't matter today. But it could matter tomorrow. Another difference between Johnson and Lamont: Johnson's race is basically over. The Republican general election nominee is in no danger of winning in Georgia's 4th. But if Lamont does anything less than blow Lieberman out of the water, Lieberman may stay in the race and run as an independent. Every connoisseur of political drama must hope that he does.
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