As with the Secretary of State primary, I wasn't sure I was going to endorse anyone in the open 8th Congressional District primary. There are three strong and capable Democrats running for that seat, and any one of them will be a marked improvement over not just John Gard, the presumptive Republican nominee, but Mark Green and any other Republican in Congress right now.
However, the more I've thought about it and the more I've read about the race, I've come to the conclusion that the strongest candidate, and the one most likely to be able to provide an appealing alternative to Gard, is Steve Kagen.
I've been predisposed to like Kagen since he was the first of the three candidates to make a direct appeal to bloggers a year ago. Reaching out to the netroots is an important symbolic step, even if, as I assured him then and am more convinced of now, my own influence is relatively small. In that first meeting and in a second one last spring, he wasn't just seeking money or pixels; he was actively seeking advice. Kagen listens, and that's one thing I like about him.
This is not to say that Nancy Nusbaum (Jamie Wall just doesn't have a shot) wouldn't listen either; all I know is she never called me.
But it is in the contrast between Kagen and Nusbaum that I see a reflection of what the contrast would be between Kagen and Gard. 2006 is, nationally, shaping up to be an anti-Republican, anti-incumbent year. John Gard is nothing if not a Republican incumbent, even if he's never held this particular office. Gard is a politician's politician. Everyone knows who he is and what he is and, frankly, people just don't like him that much. Nancy Nusbaum, of course, hasn't been sitting atop an ineffective and reactionary legislature. But Nusbaum is also a politician--albeit one on the side of good rather than evil. Kagen, on the other hand, can ride a wave of anti-politician sentiment that Nusbaum and Gard can't harness.
I think the voters in the 8th are seeing that. I can't help but roll my eyes a little bit every time someone tells me that Kagen is winning big--the polls they cite are all paid for by Kagen's campaign. However, it is important to note that neither Gard nor Nusbaum is releasing internal polling data. That suggests to me that the numbers Gard and Nusbaum are seeing aren't the kind to be proud of. Even if you take Kagen's polls with a grain of salt, the lack of data from Gard and Nusbaum still speaks volumes.
The Republicans, who lined up behind Gard, also are looking at Kagen as their eventual opponent. The NRCC is already buying coordinated ads against Kagen. There's no question that the Republicans have made some bad decisions in this cycle (how much money are they spending to defend Lincoln Chaffee in a primary?), but I believe they must have their own polling showing a Kagen win on the Democratic side.
The 8th is a winnable district this year: There's no incumbent, and a general anti-Republican sentiment across the nation. I firmly believe that the best bet we have to take it is with Steven Kagen.