No primary for Obama, but some dissenters

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Dan Janison Melville. N.Y. Tuesday January 26, 2010. Daniel Janison,

Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday since 1997, initially as a staff writer for the New

While Republican candidates slug it out in early primary states, President Barack Obama stands as assured as anyone could be that he will carry the Democratic Party banner in November's election.

This fits the trend. Since the mid-1990s, we have become accustomed to seeing presidents effectively bypass direct challenges from within their party ranks. Pre-convention White House nomination battles are effectively reserved for the "out" party.

Several months ago, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a self-described democratic socialist who isn't enrolled in the Democratic Party, said, "I think it would be a good idea if President Obama faced some primary opposition . . . One of the reasons the president has been able to move so far to the right is that there is no primary opposition to him."

Also on the left, Ralph Nader and activist and scholar Cornel West proclaimed a search for primary candidates, citing dissatisfaction over continued involvement in Afghanistan and Obama's agreement to keep Bush-era tax reductions for high-income Americans and threaten popular programs to reduce deficits -- all with moneyed interests still wielding outsize influence in Washington.

Nothing came of their effort. But this week, one of the more mysterious campaign developments arose when robo-calls reached the region urging a Hillary Clinton presidential run in 2012. The call's script, read by a woman, claims -- rather extravagantly -- that if Clinton were president "the Wall Street robber barons would be jailed, young people could afford college and find jobs and 6 million homeowners wouldn't face foreclosure."

Never mind that Clinton hasn't shown the slightest inclination to oppose Obama, whom she serves as secretary of state -- or that she said explicitly she won't seek elected office again.

Much as they hail Clinton as "unafraid," the creators of the website,, seem afraid to identify themselves, revealing no office location or contact person. Several outsider comments posted on the site guess GOP trickery. Says one: "Ask yourself who benefits from a divided Democratic Party. That may explain the existence of this website and the motives of people behind it." At least one inconsistency with the earlier calls for a primary stands out: The site's authors, interestingly, praise Obama-Clinton foreign policy.

Life changes quickly. Four years ago this month, presidential front-runner Clinton, then a U.S. senator from New York, faced trouble ahead in Iowa from rival Obama -- a position, by the way, that some have compared with Mitt Romney's current predicament on the Republican side. Back then, Clinton had her home state's party bigs solidly behind her -- from Gov. Eliot Spitzer to Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, Lt. Gov. David A. Paterson, and fellow Sen. Charles Schumer to Reps. Charles Rangel and Anthony Weiner.

Surprises occur. Knowing this, Democratic Party leaders, determined to exert maximum control over the field, have no problem forgoing, or squelching, primary contests against their incumbents.

State party chairman Jay Jacobs says that in next year's national race, a presidential primary challenge "would be a sign of division in the party, which is not accurate."

"We're going to have a convention with enthusiastic acclamation," Jacobs said this week. "You always have people in every political party who like to play the role of critic and malcontent. That can't be avoided. But I will tell you -- not only is the president going to be re-elected but the margin he wins by will be stunning."

Perhaps. The surer, narrower bet is that those Democratic dissenters will find themselves dissatisfied with their 2012 options.

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