Democrats Suffer From McKinney-itis, Too

The popular spin is that Republicans, Jewish groups, conservative talk show hosts have ganged up on Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney. They have slandered her in print and on the airwaves, and tossed bundles of money at her rival, former DeKalb County Commissioner Hank Johnson.

McKinney bashers sniff political blood, and fervently hope that their dollars and endorsements will help Johnson ring the final curtain down on her political career on August 8th. But if McKinney falls, it won't be because of a right-wing, pro-Israeli conspiracy to nail her. It's because top Democrats regard her as a pariah, and have cut and run from her and her campaign.

The first signal of that came when House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi flatly turned down McKinney's request to get her seniority spot back on a House committee after she won reelection in 2004. House Democrats say that Pelosi's antipathy for McKinney is so great that they are no longer on speaking terms.

Another signal that Democrats suffer from McKinneyitis came after her joust with a white Capital police officer in March. At her initial press conference, McKinney screamed racism, and defiantly refused to apologize. Not one House Democratic leader or member of the Congressional Black Caucus stood by her side, nor publicly spoke in her defense. Washington D.C. Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton issued an ambiguous statement calling for a "resolution" of the dispute. That was the closest any Democrat came to showing empathy for McKinney.

Then there's the money and endorsements question. McKinney's battle to keep her seat costs money; lots of it. In her election campaigns in 2002 and 2004, the Caucus helped her both times. The group, as well as individual members, gave money and public support to her. This time there is no record that the Caucus or individual members have given a penny to her campaign. Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young have endorsed her. But Jackson and Sharpton don't live in Georgia. They are not elected officials, and they hold no official position in the Democratic Party. Young's kind of, sort of tepid endorsement sounded less like a fervent belief in McKinney's politics than as he stated an endorsement of her right to dissent. Democratic National Chair Howard Dean a couple of years back dropped a strong public hint that McKinney got it right when she inferred that Bush might have known more than he let on about the September 11 terror attack. But Dean has been stone silent on her election battle.

The argument that Democrats are reluctant to back McKinney in a contest between two Democrats in a run-off election won't fly. McKinney is the incumbent, a six-term House member, and a long time member CBC member, and the Caucus bankrolled and endorsed her in 2002 and 2004. Both of those times she ran against other Democrats.

The dislike of her, her politics, or both, doesn't totally explain the Democrat's McKinney freeze. The nervous eye that top Democrats have cast on the fall mid term elections and 2008 presidential elections does. The elections will be free wheeling political slugfests with lots of national offices up for grabs. Bush's ratings still rest near the Ocean bottom, and the popularity of many Republicans is only a current above his. Some polls show that a majority of Americans think the Democrats can do a better job of running the government and the country than the Republicans.

Democrats think they have a real shot at grabbing more House and Senate seats and even bagging the White House in 2008. They will do everything to put their best public face before the voters. McKinney could be a distraction. The Republicans would eagerly latch on to a loose remark, a slip, or a too shrill attack on Bush by McKinney.

They would use it to tar Democrats as a party that coddles leftwing, radical extremists. That's pretty much what happened after McKinney's tiff with the Capital police officer. Top House Republican Tom DeLay and other Republicans were reeling from influence peddling and illicit contribution charges, public opinion had sharply turned against Republicans, and Pelosi and Dean were relentlessly hammering them for purveying a "culture of corruption."

Then the McKinney fracas hit. The press played it up big and Republicans eagerly grabbed at it. Democrats cringed at the reaction and openly grumbled that the McKinney fray had at least momentarily deflected public attention from Republican political woes. Democrats don't want that to happen again. But the political fortunes of

Democrats will rise or fall in the coming elections on how well they can convince a majority of Americans that they can run things better than Republicans. They'll have to do that whether McKinney is around or not. They'd just prefer that she not be.

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