Stories about Jerry McNerney have been featured prominently in the blogosphere over the last week. First the information came to light that McNerney's 2008 race has been targeted by Karl Rove; then an ugly attack by the NRCC was launched. Meanwhile, against this background, McNerney's online staff managed a successful campaign to win a personal fundraising appeal from John Kerry, and McNerney blew past his first quarter fundraising goals.
Based on McNerney's Congressional record of fully supporting Speaker Pelosi's agenda, his support for Rep. Lynn Woolsey's H.R. 508, which would bring the troops home from Iraq within six months, and his leadership on water and energy issues, progressives everywhere have been rejoicing. Well, almost everywhere. You see, all is not quiet on the home front.
Back in 2004, a small group of committed activists worked to support Jerry McNerney in his initial race against Richard Pombo. Not very many people, bloggers or non, had heard of McNerney back in those days. But in 2005, as the `06 race started taking shape, that core group of mavens brought more and more new people to the table, and the grassroots/netroots phenomenon of the McNerney campaign began to take form. Even so, right up until the June primary, when McNerney decisively beat the DCCC's much better funded candidate, Steve Filson, there just weren't that many people who took McNerney seriously. And even after the primary, the McNerney/Pombo race was routinely considered second tier. It wasn't until the last few heady months of the '06 race that more casual observers began to share the faith in McNerney that had been demonstrated by his core grassroots supporters all along. And, of course, now that he's a Congressman, everyone has jumped on the bandwagon, basking in the McNerney glow.
But among that early group of mavens who formed the base of McNerney supporters, there is a sinking feeling that something is going hideously wrong. Allow me to make an analogy here — one from high school and one that, if you've ever met McNerney, should resonate. Imagine Jerry McNerney in high school. Now, you know he was not cool; you just know it. He probably hung out with the math geeks and was a member of the chess club. Imagine, if you will, that McNerney's high school self was suddenly tapped by the Kewl Kidz and included in their activities, becoming totally immersed in their world. And further imagine that once he joined in with the KKs, he stopped talking to his geek friends, other than to ask them for their notes. What do you think the talk would be at the chess club?
Well, substitute Democratic club for chess club, and you'll pretty much get the drift of this post. McNerney has recently blown off scheduled appearances at local Democratic clubs, while important channels of communication between him and local activists have been slammed shut, and key early supporters have been unceremoniously thrown overboard.
So what's behind this? Well, frankly, I don't believe that McNerney is fully aware of the situation and the damage that's being done to his grassroots support. I lay the blame for this growing problem squarely on his Washington staff. There is a major power play being made for Congressman McNerney by the DC apparatchiks, starting with his chief of staff, a former DCCC employee by the name of Angela Kouters. Kouters is very young and ambitious — she hit the DC insider track straight out of college in 2000. She's also very inexperienced, particularly for the powerful role that she's assumed, and easily threatened by any criticism of her abilities. So apparently she's figured out that the best way to tamp down any challenges to her competence is to simply put a wall so high and so impermeable around McNerney that no criticism of her can reach him. And her accomplice in this is McNerney spokesman Andy Stone, whose less-than-stellar work on the website for the infamously bad 2006 Angelides campaign makes him equally vulnerable to criticism. Together Kouters and Stone have effectively sequestered McNerney from his grassroots/netroots supporters, positioning themselves as the sole gatekeepers to the Congressman.
But back home, the rumblings and grumblings are loud and clear to anyone who bothers to listen. The real question is whether Jerry McNerney is going to hear them and move to repair relations with the local grassroots. If he doesn't make some changes and put his DC staff in its proper place soon, he may be sadly surprised in 2008 when his old chess club friends suddenly find more important things to do.