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Democrats Face Ideological House Primaries

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Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo
In New Mexico’s 1st district Democratic primary, the liberal Progressive Change Campaign Committee has declared war on former Albuquerque Mayor Marty Chávez (above), instead endorsing state Sen. Eric Griego.

It’s not at all surprising, given the media’s concentration on the fight for the heart and soul of the Republican Party between tea party conservatives and the GOP’s more pragmatic conservative wing, that most journalists have completely ignored the ideological fights within the Democratic Party this year.

But those fights exist, and they could well presage a larger fight within the party at some point in the future, either during a second Obama term or after he leaves office.

A very liberal group, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, sounds like a tea party group of the left, given its rhetoric, strategy and tactics. Like many in the tea party, the PCCC sees itself as a protector of its party’s dominant ideology — in this case liberalism — and a judge of who constitutes a “real” Democrat.

The PCCC has declared war on two Democratic primary candidates: businessman Brad Schneider in Illinois’ 10th district and former Albuquerque Mayor Marty Chávez in New Mexico’s 1st district. Instead, the group prefers two other Democratic hopefuls, Ilya Sheyman in the Illinois district and state Sen. Eric Griego in New Mexico.

In the Illinois race, the Russian-born Sheyman, who worked as national mobilization director for MoveOn.org, has the backing of former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean and the PCCC. Katrina vanden Heuvel of the Nation magazine wrote a glowing piece about Sheyman.

The Democratic hopeful said during an interview last year that he was not running just to win the seat but to grow the power of progressives in Congress.

Sheyman, 25, and his allies have attacked primary opponent Schneider for contributing over the years to a handful of Republican candidates (including Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk and ex-Minnesota Rep. Mark Kennedy) and even for voting in one GOP primary. (A third Democrat, businessman John Tree, is not expected to be a factor in the contest.)

Schneider, who has been endorsed by former Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.), the Chicago Tribune and the Daily Herald, responds that those contributions were made to pro-Israel candidates in conjunction with his work with the pro-Israel community and that his contributions to Democrats far, far outweigh the handful of GOP contributions. He explains that his one vote in a Republican primary was for a close friend and that he has been active for years in Democratic politics.

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