Bumped to top: ctblogger
Primaries are, generally speaking, good things. Often one of the only spaces in American political system where voters can have a real choice and incumbents can face real accountability, primaries provide progressives and all activists with a rare chance to use real people-powered leverage to change the political debate. Connecticut has certainly been witness to this.
The best primary campaigns - even against longtime incumbents - do not hurt but help a party, allowing it to hash out internal policy debates as well as more existential questions about its own identity, and often attracting newer and younger voters to the party in the process who will stay there for a lifetime. The most damaging primary campaigns are those that shy away from providing real choices to voters on ideology or policy, drawing their lifeblood not from activist passion but character attacks, cynical sharp opportunism, and single-minded personal ambition.
Unfortunately, from all initial appearances, Merrick Alpert's just-announced campaign for Senate falls clearly in the second category. He is already attacking Senator Dodd using right-wing talking points, and is poised to continue running at Senator Dodd from the right.
It seems Alpert has been looking for a chance to run and try to move the Connecticut Democratic party to the right for at least a half-decade now. As far back as February 2004, the Greenwich Time reported on his travels across the state attempting to "create a potent voting bloc" that he - in his own words - hoped would become a "centrist, pro-jobs, pro-business coalition." Alpert was at that point a resident of Greenwich and member of the Greenwich DTC (there is apparently some election law of which I am unaware that requires all primary challengers in Connecticut to have lived in Greenwich).
His seemingly-complete website and introductory video are both almost completely bereft of any policy distinctions with Dodd - or really any mention of any issues at all (the word "economy" does not appear there anywhere as far as I can tell). Instead, his campaign has emerged as a full-bore ad hominem assault, attacking Dodd both overtly and obliquely - but always in pitch-perfect right-wing consultant-speak: for being part of a "culture of corruption", for not telling the "truth" about the AIG bonuses, for moving to Iowa during his presidential run, and apparently - while emotionally describing watching his mother reading the losses on her 401(k) statement and blaming Chris Dodd for letting it happen - even for allowing the entire economic crisis.
If you wanted to, you wouldn't have to go far to find the many ironies: an ex-Enron employee attacking someone for being part of a "culture of corruption", a recent resident of Florida attacking someone for not being around Connecticut enough, a big donor who maxed out to Dodd as recently as 2006 and who has been looking to run for something big for half a decade suddenly - by his own account - dropping that support and realizing the error of his ways the very day Dodd stepped in it on CNN and it was clear he was headed for a free-fall in the polls.
John at CTBlue doesn't see this working:
I don't think that many hard core Democrats will be interested in taking part in a campaign that will, of necessity, involve nothing but attacks on Dodd, weakening him in the general election after he wins the primary, should Merrick qualify.
If there is going to be a primary, bloggers, reporters, and Connecticut progressives need to demand one based on meaningful distinctions, and ask Alpert or anyone else why and how he thinks he would be a better and more effective Democratic Senator than Chris Dodd. As of now, an answer to that central question is looking neither imminent nor, if it ever comes, at all convincing.
Update: And Alpert this morning officially kicks off his campaign with a barrage of Fox News attacks against Dodd:
Standing in front of his home in Mystic this morning, Democrat Merrick Alpert declared his intention to take on U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd, a man he attacked as "part of a culture of corruption" in Washington.
Citing Dodd's controversial mortgage, his decision to move his family to Iowa to run for President and his role in the AIG bonus controversy Alpert said Dodd has "become disconnected from the people of the Connecticut."
Update 2: The first reviews from the traditional media are starting to come in, and they're largely along the same lines I outlined above:
"Somewhere, Glenn Beck and Rob Simmons are smiling."